Candy from strangers - Paul Frysh

Midnight Berry, Warm Winter Toffee, Twista Lime, Mintrigue, Mocha Taboo, Mandarin Mint.

The above are not Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors. They are cigarette flavors.

On Thursday, the Harvard School of Public Health published a study concluding that candy-flavored cigarettes are directly marketed to young people.

No kidding.

Harvard is a fine institution, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out the target audience for these cigarettes. With a straight face, Fred McConnell of R.J. Reynolds dismisses the Harvard study, claiming they are marketing only to adults.

How many adults do you know that smoke candy-flavored cigarettes?

The evidence doesn't lie. Industry documents dating back as far as the mid 1980s make direct reference to gaining market share with what are euphemistically referred to as “young adults.” And it's not just the flavors themselves that get kids hooked, the flavors mask tobacco's natural harshness, making it easier for new users to become addicted. But the shamelessness of Big Tobacco's marketing is no big secret.

On Sept. 22, 1999, the U.S. government filed a landmark lawsuit against the major cigarette companies, seeking to hold them legally accountable for decades of illegal and harmful practices, including concealing the health risks and addictive tendencies of cigarettes and marketing to children. Then, after five years of putting on a strong case that they were clearly going to win, the federal government suddenly and inexplicably decided to reduce one of its most significant remedies. A demand for a tobacco industry financed program to help smokers quit was suddenly reduced from 25 years and $130 billion to five years and $5 billion.

It was a clear and embarrassing bow to the power of Big Tobacco in Washington, and an affront to the devoted mid-level federal prosecutors who worked tirelessly on the case.

On Aug. 31, 2005, after much public outrage, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund joined five other prominent public health organizations to file a motion in U.S. District Court asking to intervene and be named a formal party in the lawsuit. The brief gives specific recommendations for strengthening the remedies proposed by the government and penalties tailored specifically for marketing to children.

If the cigarette companies are found liable and remedies such as these are imposed, this case can fundamentally reform the tobacco industry and reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use in our country. You can go online to find out more about this effort at www.tobaccofreekids.org.

I am a true believer in open and free markets without unnecessary interference from the federal government. But there must be some limits. Cigarette companies are getting away with murder. Literally. With deep pockets and serious clout on Capitol Hill, Big Tobacco is peddling poison to our children.

Paul Frysh is a reporter for the Henry Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or at newsroomhh@henryherald.com .