This editorial was originally published May 6 in the Anderson Herald Bulletin.
U.S. health regulators have pledged to try to ban menthol cigarettes, a move that would be a significant victory for Americans’ health.
The flavor’s persistence has infuriated anti-smoking advocates, who point to research that menthol’s numbing effect masks the harshness of smoking, likely making it easier to start and harder to quit.
The mint-flavored cigarettes are popular with young people and minorities, particularly Black smokers, 85% of whom smoke menthols. That compares to about a third of white smokers.
One might argue that smoking is a personal choice and that the government ought not to interfere. However, cigarettes are a unique product in that they are made with the aim of getting the user addicted. A key illustration of this is that first-time smokers seldom find cigarettes to taste good or to provide a pleasurable sensation.
Anyone who remembers their first drag on a cigarette probably remembers a lot of coughing and perhaps some nausea. Yet many find themselves reaching for another one before long.
Some of the chemical additives in cigarettes serve no other purpose than increasing their addictive quality. Some are referred to as “processing aids,” meaning that they increase the body’s ability to absorb nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco.
Any smoker or former smoker is likely to be painfully aware of the need to budget money for cigarettes even when money is tight.
The tobacco industry once tried to portray smoking as glamorous, but today sales and marketing target poor and working class areas.
The bottom line is that cigarette smoking is an addiction that masquerades as an indulgence. This addiction has taken a high toll on health care costs and human life.
It’s time to address this problem with as much commitment as we would any other addiction.
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