The Food and Drug Administration’s naive plan to ban menthol cigarettes will lead to countless unintended consequences, including increased youth smoking, especially in minority communities, where a ban would spark illegal markets reminiscent of the days of alcohol prohibition.
Kids could easily buy loose cigarettes stored in sealed baggies with unwrapped menthol cough drops. The FDA has failed to enforce its own rules. Consider the agency’s inability to prevent youth use of e-cigarettes, despite an outright federal ban.
One unintended consequence is telling: The ban unites some African-American civil rights leaders and top law enforcement officer groups.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Ben Chavis, former executive director of the NAACP, harshly criticized the idea last year, claiming that it would “affect black communities more than other communities” and keep police from “solving violent crime and ensuring public safety.”
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Citing a National Research Council report on America’s criminal justice system, they blame policy, not increased crime, for the incarceration crisis. A menthol ban would make a bad situation worse.
The Alabama State Trooper Association, the Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and other police groups have warned that a ban would create criminal enterprises.
It would also be ineffective. Jeff Washington, a 52-year-old who started smoking menthol Newports when he joined the Army in 1983, told The Wall Street Journal that if menthols were banned, “I’d start smoking Marlboros.”
Rather, Washington should use e-cigarettes. But the FDA, which failed to prevent youth from buying e-cigarettes, is making it harder for him to switch.
President Donald Trump should ask FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in an exit interview, why the agency couldn’t achieve a central promise of his presidency: Improve our lives not with more regulation but with less of it, wisely implemented.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.