Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where There's Smoke There's Menthol?

Tobacco regulation is being reviewed within a Food and Drug Administration's (FDA advisory board, particularly the issue of menthol flavoring in cigarettes. The two sides of the issue that the New York Times presents in the article "F.D.A. to Examine Menthol Cigarettes" are that opponents claim the flavoring masks the "harsh taste of cigarettes" and thus makes cigarettes appealing to young smokers. However, proponents argue that "menthol does not pose any greater risk to public health than other types of cigarettes." The chairman of the advisory panel on tobacco regulation, Dr. Jonathan Samet, reported that the committee's first job is to review evidence before recommending changes of any kind regarding a ban on menthol.

From an editorial view, I thought the article did a nice job of being balanced. It included voices on both sides of the issue with a particular emphasis on the way menthol cigarettes are marketed to young smokers and African-American smokers. While the article did include anti-smoking moments, like "half of long-term smokers eventually die of smoking-related causes", they were cited to various 'reputable' organizations or other sources. My only comment would be that though balance existed in the content the arrangement of the piece should be reworked to highlight that. Currently, opponents of smoking appear in the fourth paragraph, while smoking supports don't appear until three paragraphs later; this pattern seems to repeat throughout the whole article- opponents first, and then supporters.

From a 20 something view, I found the idea of an underground cigarette market interesting. Though there are outspoken voices on both sides of the smoking issue, no one ever talks about what would happen if cigarettes are actually banned. Would the government provide assistance for those addicted to cigarettes? Or would they be expected to quit cold turkey? An industry analyst for Morgan Stanley, David Adelman, points out that no one can predict what a ban on specifically menthol cigarettes would do to commerce and retail, let alone consumers. While I believe that going 'smoke free' would benefit everyone's health, I can't help but wonder what, if any other, positives or negatives on either side of the issue.

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