The Congressional Black Caucus is calling for changes to a House tobacco-regulation bill, demanding that the legislation place restrictions on menthol cigarettes, the type heavily favored by African-American smokers.
The 43-member caucus is taking aim at a provision in the bill that would ban candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes but that specifically exempts menthol. In recent weeks the exemption has become the focus of controversy because menthol brands are heavily used by black smokers, who develop a large share of smoking-related cancers and other health risks. [New York Times]
The menthol prohibitionists' argument is simple: if black people are more likely to smoke menthol + black people are more likely to get lung cancer = menthol increases lung cancer risk. Of course, it's possible that black folks are just more susceptible to lung cancer for some horrible reason, but I guess the Congressional Black Caucus thinks the quickest way to find that out is to ban Newports™ and see if black people live longer. I disagree. I think the best way is to check whether the 25% of black smokers who don't smoke menthol have the same lung cancer rates as those who do.
Either way, banning menthol cigarettes is drug prohibition and we know what that leads to:
Some supporters of the bill’s current language on menthol have argued that, because menthol is widely used by many smokers, the effects of banning it outright are hard to predict. Among possibilities they have suggested is that menthol smokers would turn to an illicit cigarette market to obtain menthol cigarettes.
If nothing else, such a policy may rain hell on one of the Congressional Black Caucus' other legislative priorities: ending racial profiling. "Sir, do you have anything in the vehicle I should know about? Drugs? Weapons? Menthol cigarettes?"