By MAYA PAGE
The Food and Drug Administration banned cigarettes with flavors such as chocolate and fruit, in 2009. Candy-like cigarettes were said to promote cancer because of their attractive qualities, especially for young kids. Menthol-flavored cigarettes escaped the cut during this regulation, according to CNN.
Since then, there has been an increase in research supporting that menthol cigarettes are more addicting and harder to quit than regular cigarettes. Tobacco and public health experts are urging for the product to be banned in different states across the country, the first being New Jersey.
Herb Conaway, a physician and Democratic assemblyman, sponsored the bill to outlaw the sale of menthol cigarettes in the state of New Jersey.
“Legislation banning the cigarettes was approved by the state Assembly’s Health and Senior Services Committee and is now heading to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration,” according to the Washington Post.
Conaway’s bill analyzes the targeting of youth with menthol cigarettes and the disproportionate effects on lower socioeconomic and African-American communities. Dating back to the 1960’s there has been predatory marketing for the product.
“Studies have shown advertisements for menthol cigarettes are more likely to appear in publications with high black readership,” the Washington Post reported.
A 2011 study by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey found that more than 70 percent of black smokers in the U.S. were menthol smokers, compared to only 20 percent of white smokers. The research also suggests that black men and women are more likely to die from lung cancer than non-African Americans.
Due to the cooling and desensitizing effects of menthol, it masks the harshness of cigarette smoke, making it more appealing to first time smokers and easier to become addicted.
Conaway’s bill states that menthol cigarettes are “the number one enemy when it comes to lung disease because the cooling effect allows smokers to draw more toxic substances into their lungs and hold them there.”
Even with a bill supported by public health experts and science, there are still opponents that could stop the bill from being passed. The potential revenue loss for businesses and the state may outweigh the evidence.
Mary Ellen Peppard, the assistant vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Food Council said, “Our members report that menthol cigarettes compromise about 30 to 40 percent of their total product sales. The loss in sales would result in a significant shortfall in tax revenue and could bring the potential for a black market on the product,” according to NorthJersey.com.
Hundreds of food retailers have rallied against the bill, stating the large economic impact it would have on convenience stores, small businesses and the state. There is also a concern that by taking menthol cigarettes off the shelves in their establishments, they will lose out on other sales such as sandwiches, snacks and cups of coffee. Customers will stop going to their regular businesses because they can’t get menthol cigarettes.
“We recognize that revenue loss, if there is one, is more than matched by the gain in lives,” Conaway said.
Then, the issue of New Jersey residents buying them in neighboring states is introduced. How will authorities be able to stop and contain the distribution from other states? The possibility of illegal sales would have to be explored and new policies set in place. It is more complicated than just saying, ‘take menthol cigarettes off the shelves.’
Conaway does briefly cover this in his bill, stating, “A person who violates the provisions of subsection a. of this section shall be liable to a civil penalty of not less than $250 for the first violation, not less than $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.”
A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found that a third of college students smoke tobacco products at least once a month. FDU, in line with state law, prohibits smoking in all university buildings and outdoor spaces within 25 feet of all those buildings, much like the rules for smoking on FDU’s Metro campus.
If the new bill is passed, universities across New Jersey may need to alter and tighten their policies to enforce the prohibition of menthol cigarettes.