*The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a ban on menthol cigarettes – the kind overwhelmingly favored by Black American smokers.

The aim of the FDA is to reduce cancer by reducing the amount of smoking in the African American community.

However, critics charge making menthol cigarettes illegal would simply lead to an underground market and could conceivably lead to thousands of Black smokers being arrested and going to prison.

Currently, African American smokers are four times more likely to buy menthols than white smokers. Anti-smoking advocates says this so-called “African Americanization of menthol cigarette use” results in large part from targeted marketing by cigarette companies in predominantly Black communities. Today, for example, it is estimated that half of all Black smokers smoke the leading menthol brand “Newports.” “Kools” come in second.

The head of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, John Payton, favors a ban. He counters a tobacco industry argument that banning menthols would deny Blacks product choice. According to Payton, “Addiction is the absolute opposite of choice.”

However, in recent months, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives has been vocal in its opposition to a ban. Association head Malik Aziz says “a ban would lead to an illegal market” and result in police officers chasing smokers instead of more serious illegal behavior.

Meanwhile, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee has been studying the health effects of menthol cigarettes for over a year and is expected to issue a ban or not to ban recommendation within the next few days. The FDA usually goes along with the recommendations of its advisory panels.

[What do you think? Should menthol cigarettes be banned or would a ban simply lead to an illegal market and possibly result in more Blacks being sent to jail? Email your views to [email protected] ]