Menthol Cigarettes Apparently Too Damn Tasty

There’s a really interesting profile of Tavis Smiley in today’s N.Y. Times. (FWIW, Levitt and I were on his talk show back in July.) Smiley is perhaps best known these days for putting together The Covenant With Black America, a collection of essays about education, health care, crime, finance, and so on. The implicit point is that black America still trails white America by too wide a margin in too many of these categories. (The young Harvard economist Roland Fryer also studies what he calls “black underachievement,” and has also been on Smiley’s show.)

We touched on these subjects, albeit glancingly, in Freakonomics. The most detailed discussion of the gap between blacks and whites concerned first names. We also discussed the difference in black and white TV viewing habits (which Levitt touched upon here just the other day), as well as the fact that blacks and whites have hugely different preferences when it comes to smoking cigarettes: blacks, for instances, heavily prefer menthol to non-menthol cigarettes.

On average, blacks smoke less than whites. But blacks suffer a higher rate of smoking-related illnesses. Why is this so?

That was the question asked by Mark Pletcher, an epidemiologist at UCSF. And the answer, it seems, has a lot to do with that preference for menthol. It doesn’t appear that menthol cigarettes are more harmful than non-menthol cigarettes. But, as Pletcher and his colleagues describe in this new paper, it does seem that menthol flavoring makes cigarettes more addictive — harder to quit and more tempting to return to if you do manage to quit.

Here’s a writeup on the Pletcher research; and here’s a Nicotine & Tobacco Research paper by Charyn Sutton and Robert Robinson on the history of menthol cigarettes, which argues that blacks are not the only smokers to whom menthol cigarettes have been marketed over the years, and that the marketing messages of menthol are: “healthy/medicinal; fresh/refreshing/cool/clean/crisp; and youthfulness/silliness and fun.” Here’s another interesting nugget:

Menthol cigarettes were patented in the United States in 1925 by Lloyd ”Spud” Hughes (Borio, 2001). Tobacco companies, utilizing medicinal themes, advertised and promoted menthol brands as less irritating and suitable for sore throats due to colds (Wood, 1959). From 1933 until the early 1950s, most menthol cigarettes were smoked on an occasional basis by individuals who regularly smoked nonmenthol brands (R. J. Reynolds, 1984). The transition of menthol cigarettes from their specialty status to the mainstream began in 1956, when the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company introduced Salem, a longer, filter-tipped menthol cigarette (Borio, 2001). Prior to the entry of Salem, sales of menthol cigarettes represented approximately 3% of the overall cigarette market, with 80% of menthol tobacco sales going to a single brand, Kool (Levy & Tindall, 1984). Within its first nine months of sales, Salem became a formidable rival for Kool, amassing nearly half of the menthol market and 3.1% of the total cigarette market, compared with 3.2% for Kool (R. J. Reynolds, 1977).


Paddy

I'm currently in my 30's and have been told consistently and repeatedly, in school and elsewhere, that cigarettes are bad for you. It might be interesting to figure out and discuss exactly when anti-smoking education began. The idea that menthol cigarettes might have been advertised as "healthy/medicinal" is ridiculous for someone of my years. At some point, which is probably fast approaching, people should not be able to rely on advertising to support their reasons for smoking. And, you can't completely ignore the obvious common sense notion that inhaling smoke, no matter the source, is probably not good for you.

jeffstier

Smoking is a deadly habit, and fighting the addictive properties of nicotine is hard enough without fighting taste addictions too. According to Tavis Smiley in the New York Times, the taste of menthol cigarettes may increase the difficulty people have when trying to quit smoking. The leading smoking cessations tools have unacceptably low success rates, in part because they don't meet the nicotine needs of addicted smokers and also do nothing to help the smokers deal with taste addictions. However, it's not the nicotine, but the inhalation of the smoke that is most harmful to human health.

In order to avoid the lung damage and other health problems associated with cigarette use, smokeless tobacco can be used as a smoking cessation tool for those who have failed with other methods http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.1403/pub_detail.asp . Even the risk of oral cancer is less with oral tobacco such as snus, than from smoking cigarettes. Like the nicotine gum or patch, smokeless tobacco can satisfy the nicotine cravings experienced during smoking cessation, and new products like Taboca Green, a menthol flavored “spitless” tobacco, could help people deal with the taste cravings as well.

The American Council on Science and Health is careful to mention that smokeless tobacco is harmful and should not be considered a safe alternative to smoking, however the evidence certainly makes it clear that it is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and as such, should be considered another valid option to ease a smoker's transition from cigarette use to a tobacco free lifestyle.

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Don Robertson

On two accounts here, WRONG!

The poster, Paddy, who represents that there is no excuse for cigarette smoking is simply naive. Smoking is an addiction, like your coffee addiction, your alcohol addiction, the addiction to your the asthma respirator, and the addictions the medical industry sticks on every doctor's patient who hasn't enough sense to stay away from doctors.

Similarly Paddy, I wonder just how clever you are about not breathing in all the carbon monoxide and the sweet smell diesel fuel exhaust that is spewed your way every time you head into town? What? You didn't know that second hand smoke was bad for you? Or incense? Or scented candles? Or fabric freshener? Or the smoke from your favorite barbecue joint? Or the smell of the smoke from that fireplace in your house.

Nope Paddy. You should get with the program and see if Yogi Berra wasn't right when he said. "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Now, to the article. I'm old enough I remember seeing the first black people on TV in advertisements. They were selling Salem Cigarettes. Salem menthol cigarettes. So, it's not so much a preference, it's the nasty things that get thrown at people of color.

It's like seeing a little kid on the street. Say he's found himself a syringe some junkie has discarded. He doesn't know what it is...

If he's a white kid, a white guy might tell the kid, "Put that down, it's dirty and it'll make you sick." but the same white guy might also simply walk by a black kid and even muse to himself, "Kinda young to be a junkie... Oh well, maybe it's his moms."

Black people in advertisments are still being asked to sell crap to black people. White people do it too. But black people are asked more consistently to sell really nasty crap to their people, really nasty crap some white people (and some black people) wouldn't stoop to selling to anyone.

That's the way the world is. It's called laissez faire. It's why automobile advertisers get away with selling death to all our young kids by depicting in advertisments cars as babe-attracting, speed demons on two wheels going a thousand miles an hour. There's a class action lawsuit there, if it wasn't for the fact that Americans love their cars and the smell of the accumulated exhaust of all of them too.

You take a look at the advertisements in which black people are being asked to sell crap to their people. By-in-large they're still selling them the equivalent of Salem cigarettes.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life - Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
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kolya

I think that blacks smoke menthols more than whites because that's just what their peers do. The divide may have started out small, and just got bigger over the years. I don't know how probable that is, but I do know that when I went out to go buy my first pack of cigarettes at age 18, I didn't think about the cigarette commercials (and I used to look out for them in magazines because I thought it was hilarious how there'd be a sexy woman lounging around on a couch with the Surgeon-General's warning at her feet). I picked a brand that I saw my friends smoking. It was Marlboro, and those cigarettes aren't exactly marketed to Asian girls.

On "selling death" to children, it's a trend that spans across race. "Ghetto" culture is pretty prevalent, no matter what part of town you're in. I know that at my high school, it was the upper crust white girls who pretended they were ghetto (while strutting around in their Prada shoes and toting their Louis Vuitton bags). Then there were the Asian "gangsters"... the elementary kids flashing gang signs... the mixed excitement and bored cynicism over news of shootings and drug overdoses.

Black people don't sell death to black people. The media sells death to everyone equally. It just happens that blacks have got a lot of additional hard luck... whether it be post-slavery inequality left unmended by an indequate Reconstruction (or Second Reconstruction) or sheer bad luck (like the menthol cigarettes, in my opinion anyways).

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CharlesMerriam

As a devil's advocate: "Is it in the best interest of a young woman to smoke?"

* Smoking does promote a weight loss.
* More man can see than can think, leading to physical attractiveness being a prime mating determinant.
* For woman with no goal other than Marry for Money, does cigarette smoking increase their average household income 10 years down the line?

bigred93

Geez, Don, that wasn't very nice. You were awfully mean to Paddy based on things he never actually said. He didn't say that there's no excuse for smoking; rather, he said that "At some point, which is probably fast approaching, people should not be able to rely on advertising to support their reasons for smoking."

That's very different, and probably true.

So... why don't you put away your mean spirited put-downs and sweeping generalizations for a moment and think about what Paddy actually said? Unlike the days of your youth, the incidence and volume of anti-smoking messages today is at least equal to the advertising of the cigarette industry itself. I'm in my mid-30s and have no recollection of ever seeing a cig ad on TV.

He also pointed out that it's pretty obvious that inhaling smoke isn't a good idea. Why that led you to the idea that he was unaware that there's pollution in the world, I have no idea.

So, I'm curious - do you have any thoughts and insights on what Paddy actually said, or just what you wished he said?

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Don Robertson

Bigred93-

"I'm in my mid-30s and have no recollection of ever seeing a cig ad on TV."

Perhaps you should expand your definition of an advertisement to what cigarette companies pay for to see their products shown on TV.

As for Paddy's “At some point, which is probably fast approaching, people should not be able to rely on advertising to support their reasons for smoking.”

I addressed it quite succinctly citing numerous other noxious, even poisonous substances that are commonly inhaled every day by everyone, substances that are also bad for one's health, and, substances Paddy seemed to miss addressing how he dealt with them, perhaps because our culture doesn't frown upon inhaling them despite the sure health risk.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life – Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
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bigred93

Don,

I'm really sorry - I am having a terribly hard time understanding the point you're trying to make. Could you please clarify for me?

The point that Paddy made - one which makes sense to me - is that the volume of pro-smoking advertising has declined due to regulation, but the volume of anti-smoking messages has increased (also due to regulation). I have no evidence that cig companies pay a placement fee to TV studios to show their characters smoking (do you?) but even if we accept that as truth, it's still the case that while back in your day the mass media was awash in universally pro-smoking messages, nowadays there's a mix of pro-smoking and anti-smoking messages. That's been the case for my lifetime. Therefore, it seem reasonable to question whether "the advertising forced me to smoke" argument has lost its power for people who are beginning their addictions now. Do you disagree with this point?

And what does that have to do with polluting buses and trucks (or the other members of the litany of "noxious, even poisonous substances commonly inhaled every day by everyone")?

I'd love to understand what it is you're talking about.

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Paddy

I would clarify what I initially posted, but bigred93 already beat me to the punch, and quite eloquently. Thanks.

Don, I also am having trouble understanding your point exactly. There must me many different degrees of risk from everyday pollutants. I don't know those risks and never intended to address them. I guess you could say I try to avoid sucking in pollutants, but I'm not a health nut, and I have to live and work in this world amongst the pollutants. (I never even said I don't smoke. I just don't blame slick advertising or tasty cigs for my bad habit. I'm what's commonly referred to as a social smoker- a few cigarrettes with drinks.)

The obvious distinction between smoking and other pollutants would be some degree of choice. Ultimately, if someone in their 20s or 30s is smoking 2-3 packs of cigarrettes a day, that would be a bad choice, and a choice that was probably made after being fully informed of all the health risks and addiction risks beforehand. (There's so much else to say. I wish I had the time. I'll agree in advance that this post does not make a lot of sense, but that's what I get for trying to respond to a post that doesn't make a lot of sense.)

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Don Robertson

Bigred-

"Therefore, it seem reasonable to question whether “the advertising forced me to smoke” argument has lost its power for people who are beginning their addictions now. Do you disagree with this point?"

There's more to advertising than meets the eye.

Much of it is cultural positioning. We're not seeing a lot of CocaCola advertising on the Boob right now, but people are still picking up the habit of chugging down their brand of CocaCola for their caffeine fix, wouldn't you say?

States can huff and puff anti-smoking all they want, but selling that form of suicide right up front in every convenience store in the country, right next to the lottery tickets, isn't making it any easier for anyone to quit, nor less likley kids aren't going to give dad's old nicotine stick a whirl the first time they're out on the town with
the chums having at a few cool ones.

And PADDY-

"I'm what's commonly referred to as a social smoker- a few cigarrettes with drinks.)"

You're one toke over the line, buddy. You're a budding addict, at your age one wholly encouraged to be so by subtle advertising techniques refined and honed into perfection by the cigarette companies. They gotcha.

And sense is what you make of it, or anyone else wants to make of it. I'm not one thoroughly convinced there is anything to logic, or science, and the empirical thought academics are so fond of tossing up in the air with their condescending blah, blah, blah is so loaded full of wholes, I take their degrees as badges of their greater ignorance, coincidentally just like smoking.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life – Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
Art Auctions:
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bigred93

Don,

I think I got you now. Thanks for the clarification. Me, I believe in free will, but I guess we can agree to disagree.

Thanks!

Gaijin51

Boy-oh-boy! Look who's here to regale us with his wisdom! It's none other than Don Robertson himself, "The American Philosopher," complete with a capital 'P' and the definite article "The."

Paddy and bigred93, you aren't trying to match wits with Socrates are you? Don't you know when you're outclassed?

kassinka

Wow, this thread blew up.

All I can say is: De Gustibus non est Disputandum.

It would be interesting to see some economic study, however, attempting to measure different races' marginal rates of time preference. Could there be a significant difference between different groups, and what might account for that?

Don Robertson

Bigred-

"Me, I believe in free will, but I guess we can agree to disagree."

Well, thanks for the segway into free will.

Would you choose to do something that is immoral, and then boast about it here, online, as an act of free will? No. I don't think anyone would.

You see the question of free will is very complex.

I believe in free will simply because there is always infinite choice, something the determinists cannot tackle with their concept of fate. This infinite however, also makes our choice to exercise free will very difficult, for it is just as complex to determine a path for our free will when measured against the infinity of choice.

In my book, "An Introduction to Philosophy for Young Readers" I have postulated that morality is the choice to do nothing in life that would detract from the fine experience others will have as they enter into this world even as we leave it. I call this the incontravertable moral imperative. If you cross over that line, you have clearly acted immorally.

Now, is smoking a few fags when out for a few drinks immoral? A superficial answer is, No. One might assert, My exercise of my free will to smoke occasionally harms no one. This is what I assume your assumption might be. It's a common enough assumption.

You must put your assumption under the brighter light of the moral imperative however.

Does not your consumptive support of the cigarette industry help encourage such an industry to exist in our culture? And by this support do you not bequeath to future generations this industry ready to prey upon the young and make of them nicotine addicts? Then you have contravened the moral imperative.

I do not believe your intent to exercise your free will in this way has actually been a successful exercise of free will, but rather I would argue, no one would act immorally and then claim it to be an act of free will.

Don Robertson, Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life - Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
Art Auctions:
http://www.artbyus.com/auctions.php?a=6&b=4807

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pearldog

Well, gee, Don, as we all know, lots of child pornography is traded over the internet. Does not your consumptive support of the internet help encourage such an industry to exist in our culture? Why are you supporting child porn?

You see (and I hesitate to even stoop to explain this), if we assume that people are responsible for the consequences of their very participation in an activity, however harmless that participation might be to them, or however attentuated the consequences might be, then almost everything we do is immoral. A glass of wine with dinner encourages alcoholism in "future generations", watching even ten minutes of television a week encourages the mind-rot of "future generations" tethered to the idiot box, and so on.

If that's guilt, then we're all guilty -- in which case none of us should be pointing fingers. Capice?

Don Robertson

Pearldog-

You prove my point quite well.

"...we're all guilty."

I'd say it's high time to do something about it in a bigger way than just sitting back and leaving to all who will follow us the horrific mess empirical thought since the Enlightenment has become.

The in nothing science has given us that humanity cannot live without, and plenty it has given us we cannot live with, so when we say, "That doesn't make sense," with which we mean empirically that doesn't make sense, we should fully understand for humanity empirical science doesn't make sense.

In fact, if you read my work on philosophy, you'll find empirical science doesn't even make sense within its own empirical science framework. It's much more akin to witchcraft than it is to any human truth.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life - Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
Art Auctions:
http://www.artbyus.com/auctions.php?a=6&b=4807

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Gavin

We've gone from criticizing modern industrial society to criticizing the enlightenment! Brings to mind a Douglas Adams quote:

"Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans."

Menthol_Man_100

Don:
"Well, thanks for the segway into free will."

It's "segue."

"Segway," the vehicle, evolved from the word "segue."

Philosophize on that

osciciadarlop

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Paddy

I'm currently in my 30's and have been told consistently and repeatedly, in school and elsewhere, that cigarettes are bad for you. It might be interesting to figure out and discuss exactly when anti-smoking education began. The idea that menthol cigarettes might have been advertised as "healthy/medicinal" is ridiculous for someone of my years. At some point, which is probably fast approaching, people should not be able to rely on advertising to support their reasons for smoking. And, you can't completely ignore the obvious common sense notion that inhaling smoke, no matter the source, is probably not good for you.