Tobacco companies buy political support in the US against menthol ban

The tobacco industry in the US donates large sums of money to the election campaigns of black democratic politicians. The donations fit the pattern of aggressive marketing of menthol cigarettes.

By the web editor

Tobacco manufacturers Reynolds and Altria have disproportionately donated to US candidates in the run-up to the upcoming US general election, reports US medical news site Stat. Some of the sponsored candidates have now publicly spoken out against the menthol cigarette ban that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, similar to the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority) is preparing because this ban would encourage racist enforcement among black smokers. .

That racism has played a role in the marketing of menthol cigarettes for decades is also evident from new research from Stanford University. The Stanford Research group Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising (SRITA), a collaboration between the Stanford Faculty of Medicine and the American Heart Association (AHA), demonstrates in more detail than ever that the popularity of menthol cigarettes is explicitly intended to lure vulnerable groups . Internal documents from Big Tobacco itself show that the huge popularity of menthol cigarettes in recent decades was not a coincidence, but a deliberate result of dubious, misleading and often racist advertising campaigns.

Market manipulation

“The market for menthol cigarettes is being manipulated by the marketing activities of the major tobacco companies that produce menthol cigarettes,” lead researcher Robert K. Jackler told the cardiology website TCTMD. Jeff Willett, strategic director of the AHA and one of the authors of the study, agrees.

Amazingly, according to Jackler, little has changed in tobacco companies’ marketing strategy since the 1950s. They continue to lure (potential) smokers with menthol, although they now use other terms and now try to make menthol cigarettes as ‘organic’, ‘free from additives’ and even ‘vegetable’. “A hundred years ago, menthol cigarettes didn’t exist,” Willett said. “People don’t naturally speak to it. The industry developed these products and then invested heavily in market research on what moves consumers, focusing on youth, women and the black community.”

Prohibition is effective

This report is not just a history lesson, Jackler makes clear. “History is important because it shows how the market came about and was able to survive, but they’re still doing it today.” To this day, Big Tobacco manipulates the market in the United States, even though the FDA made a concrete proposal in April to ban menthol cigarettes and other flavorings. This would reduce the appeal of cigarettes and reduce the chances of non-smokers starting them.

A ban on menthol cigarettes came into force in the Netherlands in May 2020, and menthol in cigarettes is no longer allowed in the rest of the EU, the UK and Canada. According to the Trimbos Institute, more menthol smokers have since quit in the Netherlands than non-menthol smokers. Conversely, US figures show that between 2000 and 2018, more than half of non-menthol smokers quit, but only a quarter of menthol smokers. In fact, the market share of menthol cigarettes in the United States has grown steadily over the past two decades, not least because more than half of teens—and more than 90 percent of black teens—start using menthol cigarettes.

‘Fresh’ and ‘Cool’

The latter is a direct result of target audience advertising, says Jackler. Menthol cigarettes were often described in campaigns as ‘fresh’ and ‘cool’, with all brands targeting young people who are sensitive to such an approach. For example, the ‘Alive with Pleasure’ campaign, which ran for 44 years, featured fun, confident 20-year-olds in social and romantic situations. In the 1980s, Playboy Bunnies were even used to distribute free menthol cigarettes to young people.

Poverty markets and women

After the US Surgeon General pointed out the health risks of smoking in 1964, many people tried to quit. Subsequently, the tobacco industry turned its marketing towards the still relatively untouched so-called ‘poverty markets’, a euphemism for predominantly black urban neighbourhoods.

Black communities were bombarded with advertising in every way possible, especially for menthol brands. Black celebrities, such as athletes and musicians, were used to market menthol. Through strategic donations to black organizations, opportunistic alliances with the leaders, and even the use of Black Power imagery, Big Tobacco positioned itself as a champion of the black community. The cynical result was tens of thousands of black deaths from smoking.

Meanwhile, Reynolds is suggesting through lobbyists that the menthol ban is racist, paying people to protest and thus donate to black candidates to get their support against the ban.

Women have also been targeted in targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes with gender-specific themes and symbolism, and even specifically female brands; Menthol quickly gained popularity among women after its introduction.

Necessary rules for flavoring accessories

Although menthol cigarettes have been banned in the EU for several years, Big Tobacco tries time and time again to be ahead of the rules with all kinds of paraphernalia to keep smoking attractive to menthol addicts, and with puns to get around the existing rules. In the spring, the RIVM warned about the many taste accessories on the market and advised the government to bring them under the advertising ban for tobacco products and limit their sales. The rise of the e-cigarette, especially its disposable version, shows how much flavor in all kinds of sweet fruits makes smoking products popular among young people. For that reason, the flavors in e-cigarettes will be banned in the Netherlands from January 1. The draft decision on amending the Act on tobacco and skirt products was sent to the House last week.

tags: policy | menthol | menthol ban | the tobacco industry | tobacco lobby | America | bribe | flavorings

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