On menthol cigarettes, social justice theory shouldn’t trump science + Climate sci

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On menthol cigarettes, social justice theory shouldn’t trump science

INTRO: This year, 45,000 Black Americans will die from tobacco-related illnesses. The same number will likely perish next year, and almost as many the year after that.

Fully 85% of Black people who smoke got hooked on nicotine through menthol cigarettes, which mask the harsh taste of tobacco and other chemicals. Menthol exacerbates both addiction — the cooling effect can decrease the cough reflex and throat dryness — and health problems. Smokers tend to inhale menthol cigarettes more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer, and they are harder to quit.

So when the Biden administration announced in late April that the FDA would begin the rule-making process for banning menthol cigarettes, one might reasonably think that this threat to the health of Black Americans would finally recede.

With some $6.3 billion in annual sales in the United States alone — and a robust annual growth rate of 4.6% — Big Tobacco is not about to abandon the menthol cigarette market without a fight. That isn’t surprising.

What’s surprising is an argument that the industry’s well-resourced lobbyists are using to delay implementation of the menthol ban: social justice. Their claim? There are unintended — even inevitable — social justice consequences to banning menthol cigarettes.

Led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the tobacco industry is arguing that banning menthol cigarettes will result in more — and potentially more deadly — encounters between police and Black people. Police officers, Sharpton alleges, will see a Black person on the street smoking a cigarette, assume that it is an illicit menthol cigarette, then question the assumed perpetrator and likely harass and arrest them. And then the inevitable: Some of these encounters will turn deadly. Sharpton is quick to invoke the name of Eric Garner who was being questioned for selling “loosies” — single cigarettes — before his deadly encounter with police.

However compelling this social justice-driven argument may seem at first, it is cynically manipulative. It preys on the understandable fears people have of interactions between Black people and the police by suggesting a scenario that not only has no basis in fact but where both the historical evidence and the actual proposed FDA rule argue against even the remote possibility of escalating these interactions.

Let’s start with the proposed FDA rule... (MORE)

Can we trust climate scientists?

INTRO: There’s a problem with writing about science — any science — which is that scientists are human like the rest of us. They are not perfect disembodied truth-seeking agents but ordinary, flawed humans navigating social, professional and economic incentive structures... (MORE)

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