Foes of smoke-flavoring ban unmoved by high rate of lung-cancer deaths

Lawmakers with most lung cancer deaths in their districts voted against ban

Menthol is currently the only legal flavoring still on the market for traditional cigarettes. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Menthol is currently the only legal flavoring still on the market for traditional cigarettes. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Posted March 17, 2020 at 7:46am

The House voted on Feb. 28 to ban the sale of flavored vaping products and to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, the only legal flavoring still on the market for traditional cigarettes. Public health advocates believe a ban on all flavorings will combat the epidemic in electronic-cigarette vaping by teenagers, the health consequences of which are as yet unknown, and further reduce cancer deaths from cigarettes. Menthol-flavored cigarettes remain popular with smokers, particularly African Americans.

A 2009 law that gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate cigarettes banned the sale of flavored cigarettes, except for menthol ones, a lucrative product for Altria, the cigarette-maker whose support for the law was crucial to getting it enacted. The law allowed the FDA to decide what to do about menthol.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, causing 148,869 deaths from 2012 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But of the representatives of the 10 House districts with the most lung cancer deaths, not one voted for the bill.

Two, Republicans Daniel Webster of Florida and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, did not vote, while the other eight opposed the measure.

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The one with the most lung cancer deaths in his district to oppose the bill was Republican Harold Rogers, a longtime cigar smoker whose southeastern Kentucky district in Appalachia is home to a declining coal industry and entrenched poverty. His district also has more lung cancer deaths than any other in the United States.

Rogers declined to comment and did not speak during the floor debate on the bill. GOP colleagues who also opposed the bill said they had already dealt with the problem of youth vaping by passing a law last year raising the legal vaping age to 21. They said they objected to denying adults the ability to choose menthol products, and that the bill would hurt tobacco farmers.

The bill passed by a vote of 213-195, mostly on party lines. But it has no chance of passage in the GOP-controlled Senate.