Earlier this week, The New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise covered the renewed fight black health experts are taking up against menthol cigarettes.
One significant obstacle that had gotten in the way of regulation in past decades? The tobacco industry’s generous donations to African-American political organizations. As we have pointed out over the years, industry’s financial gifts are a standard — and effective — silencing tactic.
Interestingly, now that tobacco industry funding is no longer part of the equation, the landscape is changing.
- “Menthol cigarettes account for about a third of all cigarettes sold in the United States, and they are particularly popular among black smokers — about four out of five report smoking them, according to federal surveys.”
- “The effects are devastating: About 45,000 African-Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses — the largest cause of preventable death, more than homicides, AIDS and car accidents. Black men have the highest lung cancer mortality rate of any demographic group.”
- “Three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration seemed poised to take action. It said research showed that the mint flavoring made it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, meaning that the substance harmed public health, a finding that activists and experts believed laid the groundwork for banning menthol.”
- “Black leaders have tried for years to get the federal government to deal with menthol without success. One obstacle has been divisions among African-Americans on the issue. The tobacco industry had long provided economic support to African-American organizations like the N.A.A.C.P., according to industry documents made public during the federal government’s settlement with tobacco companies in 1998, which weakened the fight.”
- “In July, the N.A.A.C.P. voted to support state and local efforts to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes, a drastic departure from the past. A spokesman for the N.A.A.C.P. says the group receives no funding from the tobacco industry.”
Something very similar happened with Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation (our northern neighbor’s American Heart Association equivalent) two years ago. Once it ditched Big Food sponsorship, it became a much more politically active organization that unabashedly began to support public health without worrying about industry’s bottom line.
Reason #639 why industry funding of political and health organizations is problematic.