United, If Not Unanimous

Menthol cigarette issue smokes out Congressional Black Caucus

we’ve withdrawn our support, because we think the bill could be strengthened,” says NAATPN executive director William S. Robinson. While the current language of waiting for the FDA to determine menthol’s contribution to initiation and addiction is good for setting up a scientific mechanism to study the problem, the NAATPN head says his organization thinks there is already enough evidence to warrant a menthol ban.

Despite some news outlets reporting a nasty split in the CBC over the menthol issue, Cummings says, “In any group, there may be differing opinions, but I think pretty much the CBC is united. We joined in, all of us pretty much, in the statement today saying that we support this legislation, and that we will work together. We understand the significance of menthol, and we will work together to try to address that issue in the future. I think we’re pretty much on the same page, and I think that you’ll see that as time goes on.”

Representing South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, Clyburn says there is no “menthol exemption” in the act. The bill includes the regulation of all cigarettes—menthol included. “What I feel, and the vast majority, if not all of the Congressional Black Caucus feels, is that all cigarettes ought to be regulated by the FDA. And that’s what this bill does. Also it brings into law a committee that will within one year produce the results of a scientific study to let us know whether or not further steps need to be made to ban menthol,” Clyburn says.

He dismisses criticisms that the tobacco lobby or any other interest group sways some CBC members’ opinions. “Only one of the tobacco companies is supporting the bill. And the Congressional Black Caucus is supporting the bill. So, how do you say that we are being influenced by the tobacco companies if 11 of the 12 companies oppose what we’re doing?” he asks.

Clyburn also plays down speculation about splits in the CBC. “We are individuals. We don’t all see the world the same way,” he says. “We basically bring our experiences to this body, so we are always debating issues within the CBC. I don’t believe that the lack of unanimity demonstrates a lack of unity.”

President Bush is expected to veto the legislation. White House advisers released a statement yesterday supporting efforts to prevent youth from smoking, but opposed given authority to the FDA to regulate tobacco products.

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