Dole sells out, Hagan cops out, and big tobacco keeps pushing menthol

By: - September 3, 2008 3:45 pm

 It must have been quite a bake sale at Lorillard Tobacco Company in Greensboro on February 19, 2008. On that day at least six managers and executives contributed a total of $5,000 to the campaign of Elizabeth Dole.

In 2007 the Lorillard Tobacco Company Public Affairs Committee chipped in another $5,000 to the Dole campaign and in 2008 gave $5,000 to the Republican National Committee. Other employees at the company have given Dole loads of contributions over the past several years.

We have seen Lorillard reap the benefits of its donations in recent months as the tobacco company fights off regulations that threaten to kill its only viable product – menthol cigarettes.

In late July the U.S. House voted to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, and the bill also banned the use of flavorings in cigarettes, which tend to appeal to young smokers. There was one giant exception to the flavor ban – menthol.

Dole says that she opposes all FDA regulation of tobacco.

The Congressional Black Caucus derided the menthol exemption in the House bill because black smokers tend to prefer menthol. For many years tobacco companies have targeted African Americans with ads for mentholated cigarette brands, especially Newport, which is made by Lorillard.

The New York Times praised the legislation in an editorial and Lorillard CEO Martin Orlowsky released a response to the paper. In his letter Orlowsky claims that there is no scientific evidence that menthol is harmful.

But the company's own Securities and Exchange Commission filings note:

"In June 2008, seven former U.S. health secretaries criticized the bill, which would ban the use of characterizing flavors other than menthol in cigarettes, for exempting menthol from the ban and argued that the menthol exemption discriminates against African American smokers who often prefer menthol cigarettes and have higher rates of some smoking-related diseases."

Orlowsky goes on to say in his letter:

"The American people deserve to understand that if the anti-tobacco establishment convinces Congress to first ban menthol and eventually outlaw all tobacco, other powerful groups will follow to impose their idea of what is good for us to eat, drink and think."

In other words, if menthol is banned, who knows what poisonous products the government will try to regulate next?

Nice company Dole keeps.

Then again, Kay Hagan now says that she also opposes tobacco regulation by the FDA because she says that the federal agency is understaffed. No word on whether or not she would ban menthol.

When a reporter asked Hagan if she would support FDA regulation if the agency had more resources, she said, "To me, that's hypothetical." Follow up: Aren't all questions of what you to do as a senator hypothetical?

Lorillard has not contributed any money to Hagan. I don't know what's more pathetic; the fact that Dole is selling her support to big tobacco or that Hagan is volunteering hers.

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