It is no secret that the tobacco industry sought to make menthol popular among the Black community by its targeted menthol cigarette advertising of brands like Kool, Camel and Newport. Although California voters last November approved a ban on flavored cigarettes (SB793), big tobacco has found a way around that.
Knowing a perception of a cooling of the mouth and throat reduces the harshness of smoking tobacco, the industry has found other ways of producing that effect. Non-menthols like licorice, Wilkinson Sword chemical agents (WS) and carob are being used in new “nonmenthol” smokes.
“The mouth feel is an important part of taste and enjoyment of food,” explained Robert Jackler, a Stanford University professor who has a background as a surgeon. Jackler was a member of a recent zoom meeting panel gathered by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) moderated by Dr. Phillip Gardiner, AATCLC co-chair. “The new non-menthol brands itself as ‘crisp.’ It says it’s chilling, it’s cold.”
The industry is transparent in its seeking those smokers who used to purchase their menthols.
An online Kool ad actually features a Black model smoking the new brand. And a Newport mailer boasts “The menthol ban is here, but we’ve got you covered, California.”
“We got you,” another brand boasts, promising the “same intensity, same vibe,” and “Bold and smooth intensity reimagined.”
Meanwhile, those cigarette brands have kept their green and blue color scheme packaging identical to the old menthol packaging, in order to attract former smokers.
“If they can get away with it in California, what happens when the FDA bans menthol,” Jackler asked.
“The attorney general has the authority and the duty to take action against these products,” said Denny Henigan from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “He must see that laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced. Cigarette companies are being allowed to brazenly violate the state law. He should act.”
The language of the law stresses “characterizing flavor,” and that is the loophole the tobacco industry is working around. They no longer advertise “flavor.”
Advocates believe there is a need for strong language that will withstand a lawsuit so these new non-menthols can be removed from the shelves of local stores.
“We know the industry is always looking for loopholes, but so am I,” said Fagan Pebbles, the director for the Center for the Study of Tobacco at the University of Arkansas.
There is a need for regulatory action,” she said, noting that this legal battle has been a point of debate for more than two decades. “Marginalized populations need to be protected from the harms of tobacco smoke.”
She had several recommendations, including sending letters to the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), which is responsible for carrying out the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009. That Tobacco Control Act gives that agency broad authority to regulate the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products.
One California lawmaker wants to stop tobacco sales in the state entirely.
Introduced by Assemblyman Damon Connolly (D-San Rafael), AB-935 would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2007.
The tobacco products included in the ban would be “cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, vaping liquid, or snuff and more,” according to the bill’s text.
Currently, Californians have to be 21 years old or older to buy tobacco products, however, that law would be replaced by the new bill, should it pass.
For example, in 2029, only those 22 years old or older can buy tobacco; by 2040, only those 33 years old or older can buy it, and so on.
“Preventing the next generation of Californians from becoming addicted to smoking should be a priority for anyone who cares about the public health of our state and the well-being of our children,” Connolly said in a statement.
The Premium Cigar Association, a trade association that represents and assists premium tobacco retailers, voiced its opposition to the bill in a news release.
“We are deeply concerned about AB 935 and any legislation that seeks to restrict the rights of premium cigar smokers,” Joshua Habursky, deputy executive director of the association, said in a statement.
Assembly Bill 935 is expected to be heard in committee on March 17.