Congress is fighting over whether to ban this flavored, popular tobacco product.
Mentholated cigarettes were launched in the 1920s with such names as Spud, Listerine, the Original Eucalyptus Smoke and Snowball. Today they are sold as Kool, Newport and Marlboro Menthol, the smokes of choice among the black community.
Critics say these products designed specifically to lure African-American young people into a lifetime of tobacco use and dependence.
While a growing number of cities and states have moved in recent years to ban smoking in restaurants, workplaces and entertainment sites and Congress is moving toward a ban on flavored cigarettes and anything should be done about menthols.
Billy Perry, of Chicago, said he is been smoking Newports for 30 years. Perry said: “It has a better taste and less of the effects of harshness.”
A ban looks like a political pace too far for Congress. The House last month approved a measure that would depute the Food and Drug Administration to ban flavored additives and to regulate tobacco products. Menthol flavoring was exempted in the bill.
The bill passed the House by a wide margin (326 to 102) but the menthol exemption was part of the negotiations to get enough votes to pass the bill. Some House members tried to protect tobacco farmers and others objected to the government having any role in the resolution of tobacco.
One tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, supported the measure but only with the menthol exemption.
Menthol critics point to studies that claim young blacks have been targeted by marketing plans of cigarettes shops. Tobacco companies have absolutely denied targeting young people and are lobbying against any ban on menthols, which include about a quarter of all cigarette sales.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly three out of four black smokers buy menthol brands, compared with three of 10 white smokers.