The Fall Of Menthol | Crooked Media
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April 30, 2021
What A Day
The Fall Of Menthol

In This Episode

  • The pandemic continues to spiral out of control in India, with the country recently topping 200,000 deaths by the official count. The initial flights carrying relief from the U.S. landed yesterday. Vaccine manufacturing supplies from the U.S. will soon follow.
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that it’s creating standards over the next year to ban menthol in cigarettes and all flavoring in cigars. Flavored tobacco offerings are heavily marketed to Black people, and as a result, 85 percent of all menthol cigarette smokers are Black.
  • And in headlines: five Lady Gaga dog robbers are arrested, Colorado state legislature okays human composting, and Disaster Girl sells her own meme as an NFT for $500,000.




Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, April 30th. I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we are mentally preparing ourselves to take the masks off of our microphones.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we’ve been covering them up with N95s for the past year based on some very questionable advice.


Gideon Resnick: When I take this off, you’re going to hear that I’m actually shouting all the time.


Akilah Hughes: On today’s show, the government vows to snuff out menthol and other flavorings in tobacco products. Plus, we’ll have some headlines. But first, the latest.


[news clip] They have burned over 800 bodies here in the last three weeks in what used to be a car park. This in Delhi, a city of 20 million people, where the official death toll is one dead from COVID every four minutes.


Akilah Hughes: Wow. That’s a news report on the dire situation in India, where the pandemic continues to spiral out of control. The country recently topped 200,000 deaths, but that’s the official count. Many believe that to be a significant undercount.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the scale of the crisis there is really, really hard to imagine, and has quickly become the worst the world has seen. Yesterday alone, there were more than 375,000 new cases in the country in just a single day—yet another record—and more than 3,600 deaths. Overall, the total number of confirmed cases—which again, people think is an undercount—now stands at over 18 million.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that is an absolute wild statistic.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And to illustrate how dire it is for people there, there are reports of shortages of ventilators, beds, oxygen, to the point where on the black market in some cases, oxygen tanks are going for up to 16x their normal price as people try to get them. Plus, burial grounds have been running out of capacity, and there are funeral pyres at crematoriums in Delhi.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s just a nightmare, if you’ve seen any of the pictures or videos. And also yesterday, the U.S. State Department issued a warning for Americans about how serious the situation is in India. What did they have to say?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, they told U.S. Citizens who are there, to leave as soon as possible if they can. They cited the lack of available medical care and reports of being denied admittance at overwhelmed hospitals. And then on top of that, the CDC said, quote, “even fully-vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to India.”


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So recently, countries like Germany and Pakistan sent aid to India, and the U.S. joined after pressure on the administration. So where does that stand?


Gideon Resnick: It actually basically just got started. So the initial flights from the U.S. that are carrying relief actually landed yesterday. And among the things the White House will be sending are $100 million in supplies, including oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks, and one million rapid diagnostic tests. The U.S. is also sending vaccine manufacturing supplies, which they say would allow for the production of 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.


Akilah Hughes: And that part is really critical, Gideon, because the country is struggling to make enough vaccines, right?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, in time to beat what’s happening there. Definitely. So by tomorrow, India will make vaccinations eligible to everyone 18 and older. But an illustrative example of the problem, The New York Times reported that one doctor asked The Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, for a timeline for when their specific center could get the 3,000 doses it needs each month. And the response was: five to six months.


Akilah Hughes: That’s not good.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And a portal to sign up for vaccinations reportedly crash after 13 million people were able to actually get in and get those appointments. And thus far, only about 2% of the total population has been vaccinated.


Akilah Hughes: And for why it’s gotten so bad, some people are looking at the dreaded V-word: variants. Is that why we’re seeing such a travesty happening?


Gideon Resnick: It’s a little bit complicated at the moment because there’s a bit of a debate about whether the specific variant that’s identified in India is the sole cause of what we’re seeing. So anecdotally, you have some doctors that have pointed to infections rising among their fully-vaccinated colleagues. However, researchers have said it’s possible that India is also being overwhelmed by the B117 British variant. The reason there’s debate about which variant is the problem is because the country isn’t rigorously testing which strain is behind each infection, like other countries do. So there’s a lot more to learn about the presence of the variants, and their behavior as well.


Akilah Hughes: And in the midst of all of this, where are India’s political leaders?


Gideon Resnick: Well, in the past couple of weeks, campaigning. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been holding these large election rallies in recent weeks, touting his own government as the crisis worsened.


Akilah Hughes: So just super spreading.


Gideon Resnick: Essentially, that’s the yeah, that’s what it looks like. There’s also been attention paid to a social media crackdown as of late as Facebook temporarily took down, and then restored posts with the hashtag “ResignModi”—definitely not the end of the story there. And we have barely scratched the surface of what all is going on in India. But so you can help out, too, we’re going to have a link in our show notes for how you can get resources over there. Turning. Back to the U.S., Akilah, the FDA made a non-pandemic announcement that has to do with our collective health. So what is the update there?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so yesterday they announced that they’re creating standards over the course of the next year to ban menthol in cigarettes and all flavorings and cigars. And the reason for this is especially sinister: flavored tobacco offerings are often marketed to young people, and Black people, and Black young people. The longer you smoke, the worse your chances are of disease, and well, the math is pretty obvious here. FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement that the move would, quote “address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.”


Gideon Resnick: Right. And so what are the actual numbers on who is most likely to be drawn to these flavorings in their tobacco?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so according to FDA research, 85% of menthol cigarette smokers are Black. A lot of people love saying “stop making everything about race” when if you zoom out, everything does tend to come back to it. And a question I had, that was asked and answered, is that: no, individuals who are in possession won’t face consequences. This is really about changing the offerings from manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that seems to be the better priority, of course. So this sounds like a net positive move on the FDA’s behalf. But did they say exactly the impact that they think it’s going to have?


Akilah Hughes: So their hope is that it could lead to nearly a million smokers quitting, including nearly a quarter million African-Americans. Now, this is assuming that they chose menthols for the taste and not because Joe Cool is so cool. Um, I’m really not proud of the rhyme, but I said it, so I’m going to own it.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is yours now for the rest of time. So happy for you.


Akilah Hughes: Well, hopefully you can move on. So too long, didn’t read, they’re not expecting these smokers to necessarily just switch to another tobacco product. And they think these benefits could happen within a year and a half of the ban taking place. Beyond getting people to kick their nicotine habit, it’s also about saving lives. We all know that smoking increases the risk of cancers, heart disease, birth defects, and that secondhand smoke kills people who happen to be in proximity. Black Americans have the highest mortality rates and shortest survival of most forms of cancer. So this really is seeking to right a wrong.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right. And quickly, what were some of the reactions to the announcement?


Akilah Hughes: So the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, think that this will, in fact help the advancement of Black folks. Tobacco companies—shockingly—didn’t say much about that, but they did say that they thought it wouldn’t work. I guess, you know, they would know. They’re the ones who are pumping addictive products into these communities in the first place, but when has the chance of failure been a good reason not to at least try? The American Medical Association—who I respect way more—called the FDA’s decision long overdue. We’ll let you know if more develops, but that’s the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re discussing one of history’s most infamous trilogies, the Star Wars prequels, which Ewan McGregor discussed in a Hollywood Reporter interview this week. For the first time, McGregor addressed the negative response to the film’s saying, quote “They were universally not very much liked.” McGregor played Obi Wan in the movies, a role he’s set to bring back in the 2022 Disney Plus series. And in trying to figure out where things went wrong with the prequels, he noted issues with the dialog, saying, quote “I don’t want to be rude, but it’s not Shakespeare.” So Giddy, to see if we agree with Ewan, we are going to listen to some extremely memorable prequel dialog and review it on a scale of one to 10 lightsabers.


Gideon Resnick: I cannot wait. 11-year old me would think it’s Shakespeare. So . . .


Akilah Hughes: Okay, well, here we go. Here’s Hayden Christensen romancing Natalie Portman in Episode 2: Attack of the Clones:


[clip of Hayden Christensen in Attack of the Clones] I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Mot like you. You’re everything. Soft . . . and smooth.


Gideon Resnick: Oh, that was legitimately painful, I did not expect it to be—


Akilah Hughes: That was so embarrassing.


Gideon Resnick: —so bad. The pan flutes were really, really the touch that that put it over the top.


Akilah Hughes: It should be a sound on TikTok. Like I think that the teens at the beach this summer should be holding piles of sand, saying “I don’t like sand, it’s coarse.” It’s just like the least romantic thing I think anyone has ever said, but they were really selling it. OK, so you got to rate this Gideon, one to 10 lightsabers.


Gideon Resnick: Uh, this, this is clocking in at like two, and they are coarse [laughter] they are coarse, like the sand, to my ears.


Akilah Hughes: Hella generous. I’m going with one light saber. I think it’s very, very embarrassing. [laughs] We’re going to go to another one. It is Hayden Christensen from Attack of the Clones. [sighs] Here we go:


[clip of Hayden Christensen in Attack of the Clones] Believe me, I wish that I could just wish away my feelings. But I can’t.


Akilah Hughes: OK. I mean, you know, I just think like an easy editor to not say the same word twice when it’s not that, you know, integral. Like, I wish I could wish, I could wish could wish.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I don’t know how that didn’t come up in the edit. They’re like: we’re looking for another word for ‘wish’ and we’re not getting anything. We’re hitting a wall here, Hayden.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Can we use it not as a verb and a noun in the same sentence perhaps? [laughs] But it’s like: no that’s all we’ve got. Yikes. You know that one . . . I feel like it’s just like a bad take. Like maybe he just paraphrased. If that’s actually written down, that’s a zero. But if it is just, you know, him paraphrasing, and them like: cut, we got it, it’s raining, let’s just get out of here.”


Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. Right.


Akilah Hughes: I’ll give it like a three. Perhaps with only one wish that would have been more heartfelt and really delivered.


Gideon Resnick: I agree. This is a conditional two and a half for me. It does definitely bump down to a zero if that was written. But we’re going to assume that Hayden was kind of freelancing here.


Akilah Hughes: Woof. Well, just like that, we checked our temps. Stay safe. Maybe just do another draft, you know, one more pass, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: In what shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, two elite universities came under fire for being disgustingly racist. Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania put out a formal apology yesterday after being called out for using the bones of a Black child killed by Philadelphia police in the ’80s as a quote unquote “case study” for an anthropology class. The remains belong to a Black teenage girl who was killed in 1985 when the Philly police dropped a bomb onto the headquarters of Move, a Black liberation group. Alan Mann, an anthropologist at U-Penn and later at Princeton held on to those remains for 36 years, without permission from the family of the child. Mann’s course at Princeton has officially been suspended for now and the school’s promised to return the remains to relatives.


Akilah Hughes: We have an update on a story we covered on our show. So a total of five people have been arrested and charged in connection with the shooting of Lady Gaga’s dog walker and the theft of her pets. As a refresher, Ryan Fischer was shot and injured in February while walking Gaga’s three beloved French Bulldogs: Koji, Gustav and Miss Asia. The robbers got away with two of the dogs. Then after Gaga offered a $500,000 reward, a woman who was seemingly not involved—yeah right—showed up with the pups two days later. Doesn’t take Daniel Craig from “Knives Out” to solve this crime. It turns out the woman WAS involved: she was dating the father of one of the suspects. Now she is being held on one million dollar bail along with the father and the three robbers. In a sense, you could say these people were on the Edge of Glory, but someone couldn’t keep their P-P-P-Poker Face. Oh, God. Maybe because they weren’t Born This Way. And by “this way” I mean good at stealing dogs. Or, you know, having a moral compass.


Gideon Resnick: I’m going to just dance myself away from that.


Akilah Hughes: Thank you.


Gideon Resnick: Not ever touch it or think about it again.


Akilah Hughes: That’s good. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: If you live in Colorado and want to have flowers growing in you someday, you are in luck: the Colorado state legislature passed a bill this Tuesday that would allow for composting of human remains. Human composting is seen as an alternative to burials or cremations, turning bodies into soil in about 30 days. Under the new Colorado law, that soil could not be sold or used to grow food, which sucks if your dream version of the afterlife is becoming butter lettuce and getting eaten as part of a hearty Cobb salad. We all have dreams. The bill passed with bipartisan support, meaning that both Republicans and Democrats agree that the body is just a vessel for the spirit and also, worms be hungry. [laughter] Washington legalized human composting in 2019, and lawmakers in Oregon, California and New York have proposed human composting legislation as well. Obviously, none of this means anything to me because, I’m going to live forever.


Akilah Hughes: Wow. I’m going to probably die, but I’m not going to, like, think about the composting part. You know, figure it out after I’m dead.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Fair.


Akilah Hughes: Here is the latest update in the world of money that only exists in the computer: viral meme “Disaster Girl” was just sold by its subject as a nonfungible token for $500,000. Zoe Roth was the little girl who, in 2005, was photographed grinning in front of a house that was completely engulfed in flames, as if to say: I planned this. Approximately one million Photoshop’s later, Roth is 21 years old and in college—I’m a million years old. By turning her photo into an NFT and selling it online, she was able to take control of her own image for the first time since it was posted. Good for you. The Roth family still owns the copyright to Disaster Girl and will retain 10% of future sales, making it even less clear what an NFT is, and why someone would ever buy one for half a million dollars!? The new owner of the meme can claim that their copy is stored on the blockchain and marked as authentic. My version is a jpeg I can access at any time on Google Images. I’m willing to sell that for just $200,000.


Gideon Resnick: That’s a reasonable ask. That’s a fair price, and I think you’re going to get your money’s worth.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. All right, guys. Come through with the offers. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, a correction from yesterday’s show on the investigation into the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown by sheriff’s deputies. The case is in North Carolina, not South Carolina. Our bad.


Gideon Resnick: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, become a Cobb salad, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just a Lady Gaga song titles so you can make good puns like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And we’re selling this episode as an NFT!


Akilah Hughes: Mm. Yeah. I think that, you know, if you got money and you want to waste it, come on over here.


Gideon Resnick: Listen, this is a very rare episode we’re talking about.


Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.


Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.


Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.


Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.


Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.