Black Leaders Raise Questions About Possible Cigarette Ban

Niger Innis is the spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality./CORE

Two national black organizations called into question about the process and possible judgment by a Food and Drug Administration panel as it debates whether or not to ban menthol cigarettes, a popular smoking choice among African Americans.

With the FDA convening for two days to examine the impact of menthol cigarettes, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) have each came out with statements, voicing their concerns about a possible gateway from the government to do away with menthol cigarettes.

CORE spokesperson Niger Innis questioned whether a Food and Drug Administration committee is headed toward a “government-knows-best moment” as they examine menthol cigarettes. A FDA scientific panel is meeting today and tomorrow as part of a review of menthol cigarettes. Innis believes that this panel is the beginning of a process that could lead to the prohibition of menthol cigarettes, which are popular with African-Americans who smoke.

“This is the wrong way to attack the legitimate problem of health disparities in the Black community,” Innis said. “Government’s efforts to demonize menthol flavored cigarettes will simply add yet another government imposed prohibition on a legal activity, hence another government restriction on people’s ability to exercise their liberty.”

According to several studies, African Americans prefer menthol cigarettes to other smoke brands. Newport, Kool and Marlboro are the top cigarette brands for African Americans, according to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report that was released last year. Their study shows that 80 percent of blacks youths surveyed prefer Newport cigarettes to smoke, while roughly four out of 10 African Americans adults do as well.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) warned an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it has “serious concerns” about the unintended consequences of a ban of menthol cigarettes.

NOBLE issued the statement prior to hearings scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8 of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which will issue a report and recommendation on menthol early next year. The Advisory Committee has the power to recommend regulations or a ban of menthol cigarettes.

“NOBLE has serious concerns about the unintended consequences of a ban, which we believe would precipitate a robust and troubling illicit market. The possibility of a ‘black market’ economy in menthol cigarettes demands study,” said Jessie Lee, NOBLE Executive Director. “We urge the Advisory Committee to properly study the potential ramifications of banning menthol.

“As a national police organization, NOBLE is concerned that illegal activity associated with banning menthol cigarettes could burden our law enforcement, judicial and prison systems and divert needed resources from more pressing problems. NOBLE is also concerned that enforcement activities could lead to inequities in law enforcement in African American communities.”

Innis pointed to clearly immoral past government initiatives like the Tuskegee Experiment and similar trials performed on several hundred Guatemalans in the 1940s, both launched with the best intentions of improving Americans’ public health.

“Before government promotes actions like these that usurp individual choice and liberty, they should remember the horrific ‘unintended consequences’ that can result,” Innis said “CORE is urging the FDA, in the strongest terms, not to jump to conclusions about menthol cigarettes – simply because they are popular among blacks.  It would be a serious mistake to single out a flavor popular with blacks without solid scientific evidence regarding any harmful effects of menthol.”

An average of 45,000 African Americans die from smoking annually, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report.

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