Editors Note: When a US Senator states that an action to ban menthol cigarettes is based upon on the TPSAC report, he has not read the report in its entirety. The TPSAC made it clear that no action can be taken on a ban until the issue of contraband has been addressed. CRE has an Interactive Public Docket entitled Counterfeit Cigarettes: An Enforcement Forum which is dedicated to the contraband issue.
CRE has informed TPSAC that China exports 400 billion cigarettes per year. CRE continues to issue reports based on information obtained from Chinese government publications which demonstrate that the contraband industry in China is flourishing and will be even more prosperous with a menthol ban. CRE presentations to TPSAC clearly demonstrated that a menthol ban will not only result in an increase in adult and underage smoking of tobacco products but in doing so both groups will be exposed to heavy metals at a level which is an order of magnitude greater than legal cigarettes.
Consequently, if the Congress is going to get involved in the FDA review of the TPSAC report they should do so only after they have read the entire record.
by Melissa Bailey | Apr 19, 2011
Patel (pictured) was working Monday afternoon at Kav’s Package Store at 529 Howard Ave. in the Hill neighborhood.
Between selling and restocking 16-ounce cans of Natural Ice beer, Patel responded to a proposal from U.S. Sen. Blumenthal, who earlier that day called on the federal government to remove menthol cigarettes from the marketplace.
“If they’re going to take away menthol, then we’ve got nothing left to sell,” Patel said.
Three other Hill cigarette sellers agreed menthols are by far their most popular cigarette.
The menthol additive laced into the cigarettes is the chief component of peppermint oil. It has a refreshing minty taste, increases saliva flow, stimulates cold receptors, and increases tobacco absorption, according to the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) at the University of California. Through advertising campaigns that framed menthol cigarettes as “young, hip, new and healthy,” menthol cigarette makers cornered a large part of the African-American market through culturally tailored advertising beginning in the 1960s, according to the article.
Patel said he isn’t opposed to a ban on menthol cigarettes, but it would certainly change business at his father’s shop, where he’s worked at for 14 years.
As he spoke, Patel gave the occasional glance to his TV, where his native India was about to beat the Netherlands in a rerun of the cricket World Cup. He said he doesn’t smoke, but he’s noticed that in the black and Latino neighborhood where he works, menthols are by far the smoker’s favorite.
Kav’s sells 10 cartons a week of green-labeled Newport menthol cigarettes, which go for $8.50 a pack, Patel said. The red-label “non-menthol” Newports are a dollar cheaper, but go virtually untouched, Patel said.
“I barely sell the regular ones,” he said.
Blumenthal’s quest to take the Newports off Patel’s shelf comes on the heels of a report by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee on the topic.
In a report issued last month, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) concluded the “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.”
Based on a 2010 study, the committee found that adding menthol to cigarettes makes them taste better, and might even make smoking more addictive.
The use of menthol in cigarettes is currently not regulated by the FDA. While most cigarettes have some menthol in them, cigarettes are considered a “menthol cigarette” if they have more than 0.3 percent menthol by weight, according to the report.
In a letter Monday, Blumenthal called on the FDA to “act expeditiously to protect the public health of our nation” by following the committee’s advice and banning menthol cigarettes.
“The TPSAC found clear and compelling evidence that menthol cigarettes have an adverse impact on public health in the United States,” Blumenthal wrote in his letter, addressed to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “By masking the harshness of smoking, menthol cigarettes increase experimentation among youth and heighten the number of youth who transition from experimenters to become regular smokers.”
The report cites a 2010 study that found menthol cigarettes are most popular among adolescents. The study found that 44.7 percent adolescent smokers ages 12 to 17 smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 36.1 percent of young adult smokers ages 18 to 25 years old and 30.2 percent of adult smokers over 26 years old.
Following the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009, the FDA now has the authority “to regulate the manufacturing, sale and marketing of tobacco products,” Blumenthal continued. He urged the agency “to use its new authority to vigorously and aggressively address the unregulated use of menthol in cigarettes.”
Blumenthal said the result will be fewer teens inhaling tobacco into their young lungs, and fewer converting into long-term smokers.
“It is well documented that the restriction of access to tobacco products directly impacts youth smoking rates,” Blumenthal wrote, “and that FDA should take strong action to prevent tobacco companies from using menthol cigarettes to increase the number of youth who smoke.”
Jerome Rumley, a 16-year-old taking puffs from a Newport menthol on his front stoop next to Kav’s Package Store, begged to differ with the study.
He said he’s been smoking since he was 11, but he wasn’t lured in by the flavor of menthol.
“I don’t really care about the taste. I just started smoking,” Jerome said. He passed the cigarette around to a 21-year-old friend and two teenage girls.
Jerome is prohibited by law from buying cigarettes because he’s under 18. That doesn’t stop him from smoking.
Down the street at Sam’s Food Store, assistant manager Elfatai Azeddine (pictured) worked behind the counter at one of the highest-volume cigarette sellers in the neighborhood. The store, positioned at a gas station at Howard and Kimberly Avenues, bustled Monday with people buying gas and lottery tickets and looking for air to fill their tires.
Azeddine said stores can only do so much to stop kids from smoking.
Price is one barrier.
Azeddine sells Newport menthols for $8.15 per pack including tax, which is the cheapest price on the block. That equates to 41 cents per cigarette, though Azeddine sells them only by the pack, because selling “loosies” is prohibited by state law.
Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes equates to a 7 percent drop in youth smoking, according to the American Lung Association.
Identification is another barrier.
A large overhead sign reads “We Card. Please Have Your ID Ready.”
Azeddine said “a lot” of underage kids come in the store trying to buy cigarettes. “We kick them out,” he said, but they find other ways to get their smokes.
Teens may wait outside the store until they find an adult to buy a pack for them. Or they might bum a smoke from a family member or friend.
“If their parents, or their friends, get cigarettes for the kids, what can we do?” Azeddine asked.
The store has also posted a warning, required by law: “Smoking by pregnant women may cause birth defects.” That doesn’t curb the demand.
“All kind of people, they ask for Newport menthol, Newport menthol,” Azeddine said.
He said at least 90 percent of the store’s cigarette sales are menthols. He was skeptical of Blumenthal’s proposal.
“You want to stop menthol? It’s not going to work,” he opined.
He predicted the proposal would fail because menthols bring the government so much tax revenue.
For each pack of cigarettes sold, $3 goes to the state government in the form of a cigarette tax. Another $1.01 goes to the federal government. That’s on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax.
Sam’s Food Store sold about 50 packs of menthol cigarettes on Sunday, Azeddine said. With taxes so high, the store makes only 20 cents profit per pack, he said. Azeddine said his store typically sells $600 worth of menthol cigarettes per day, but only about one pack of Newport “regulars” per day, at a cost of $7.15.
Menthols’ popularity depends on the race of the smoker, according to the TPSAC report. Rates are highest in African-American adults: 71.9 percent of adolescent African-American smokers and 82.2 percent of adult African-American smokers choose menthol cigarettes. By contrast, 41.0 of white adolescent smokers and 21.9 of white adult smokers choose menthols.
African-Americans grew into the habit as the result of the tobacco industry’s “masterful manipulation of the burgeoning Black, urban, segregated, consumer market in the 1960s,” wrote Phillip S. Gardiner in the University of California article.
“The African Americanization of menthol cigarettes is no trivial matter,” he wrote, “because it is a documented fact that African American men have a
disproportionately high mortality rate from cancers of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, among other types of cancer.”
Poonam Patel, who stood behind the counter at Kimbi Deli in Kimberly Square, confirmed the reports’ findings. Menthols are “very popular” at the store, she said.
At the Kimberly Avenue store, 95 percent of cigarettes sold are menthols, she said. By contrast, a sister store near the Hamden Department of Motor Vehicles, which has more white customers, sells only 60 percent menthols, she said.
The Kimberly Square C-Town, a small supermarket specializing in Latino fare, sells a lot of menthol cigarettes, too, said assistant manager Hebe Prieto.
“If they stop selling menthols, they won’t sell any more cigarettes,” she predicted.
Back on Howard Avenue, 16-year-old Jerome disagreed.
“I don’t care” if the government bans menthols, he said. “I’ll switch to Marlboro.”