The Food and Drug Administration is moving to ban menthol cigarettes, which represent over 40 percent of all cigarettes sold. The Biden White House is justifying the ban by saying menthols disproportionately target and hurt African Americans. Indeed, some 80 percent of blacks and 35 percent of Hispanics who smoke prefer menthols.
But criminalizing menthol cigarettes will have negative side effects. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network point out that anti-tobacco efforts “must avoid solutions that will create yet another reason for armed police to engage citizens on the street based on pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety. . . . If menthol cigarettes are banned, their sale and distribution would be a crime punishable as a felony.”
If the FDA were serious about helping smokers quit, there is another way. Tim Andrews of Americans for Tax Reform notes that “reduced risk tobacco alternatives such as e-cigarettes have been proven to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes, more than twice as effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapies, and are endorsed by 35 of the world’s leading medical bodies.”
But, of course, the federal government’s policy is to also crack down on e-cigarettes and drive them out of the market. Political zealotry is a terrible thing to watch.