The New York Times is reporting a split in the Congressional Black Caucus over legislation that bans certain types of cigarettes.
Right now, tobacco is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means the FDA has limited authority to control the content and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. A bill in Congress would provide that authority, but some compromises have been made on this. One such compromise is that although the bill bans flavored cigarettes, menthol cigarettes are exempted from the ban. As noted in the Times article
…the menthol exemption was seen as a necessary compromise to win broad backing for the legislation… the legislation in its current form, with the menthol exemption, has broad support in the House. It also has the backing of many health groups, as well as the nation’s biggest cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, whose support is considered crucial for passage. The company makes Marlboro Menthol, the second-biggest menthol brand.
But menthol has become a politically charged subject in Washington because an estimated 75 percent of black smokers choose mentholated brands. Scientists have long wondered whether menthol might play a role in the disproportionate share of smoking-related cancer among African-Americans…
Caucus Chair Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick says… (CBC) members… are deeply divided on the subject. “The caucus is split,” she said. “We do want to see menthol regulated, but we’re convinced that eliminating or prohibiting menthol would be a killer for the bill.”
Philip Morris over the years has been one of the biggest contributors to the caucus’s nonprofit Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. That financial support, in some years exceeding $250,000, and lesser amounts at times from other cigarette makers, has been the reason some critics perceived an alliance between big tobacco and African-American members of Congress, some of whom were willing to help fend off antitobacco efforts.
Meanwhile, The Hill has a story about CBC members in potentially tough primary races who are hoping to get Barack Obama’s endorsement. Congressman Ed Towns of Brooklyn, NY is in trouble for supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and it appears voters are becoming discontented with him. Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick has been tainted by a scandal involving her son, Kwame Kilpatrick, who is the mayor of Detroit. William Jefferson, the congressman from New Orleans, has been indicted on federal corruption charges.