Nanny State

WTO Rejects U.S. Ban on Clove Cigarettes


A few years ago, I considered the argument that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products, was racist because it banned all flavored cigarettes except the menthol variety, which is disproportionately popular among African Americans. To see that policy as racist, I noted, you have to accept the premise that letting smokers have what they want is a hostile act. Last week the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed that the ban on flavored cigarettes is unacceptably discriminatory, but for a different reason: It cuts off imports of clove cigarettes made in Indonesia while allowing continued sale of domestically produced menthol cigarettes, even though these are "like products" from a public health perspective. Hence the law "is inconsistent with the national treatment obligation in Article 2.1 of the TBT [Technical Barriers to Trade] Agreement." To comply with its trade commitments, the WTO panel said, the U.S. government must either lift the ban on clove cigarettes or extend it to menthol cigarettes.

The panel noted that deterring underage consumption was the rationale for the ban, and it accepted the dubious notion that governments may legitimately prevent adults from buying adult products whose taste could appeal to minors. Still, it said, "both types of cigarettes are flavoured and appeal to youth." That way of putting it understates the blatantly protectionist nature of the tobacco law's flavoritism, since clove cigarettes attracted less than 1 percent of underage smokers, while menthol's share of this market was 43 percent. That's right: Menthol cigarettes were more than 43 times as popular among teenagers as clove cigarettes, but they were exempted from a ban supposedly aimed at protecting minors from excessively tasty smokes. (Using similar logic, of course, you could argue that regular cigarettes, the ones most teenagers favor, are the real threat to the nation's youth.) There was no public-health rationale for this disparate treatment, but it was necessary to retain support for the bill from Philip Morris, the leading American tobacco company, which sells a lot of menthol cigarettes. Indonesian kretek makers had considerably less influence on the legislation.

Clove cigarette aficionados, by the way, can still buy clove cigarillos (wrapped in tobacco leaf instead of paper) or make their own

In May I noted an FDA panel's conclusion that "removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." More on the tobacco law's pro–Philip Morris bias here.

[via Michael Siegel, who predicted the WTO ruling last year]

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  1. Seriously, if you’re smoking clove cigarettes, you deserve to die of cancer.

    1. I haven’t smoked a clove ciggie in over 20 years. Reading this article made me want to go buy a pack. I guess I just want to release my inner Goth chick?

      1. It was hippies that smoked them in my own youth. Nothing like being surrounded by eau de kretek and patchouli.

      2. That picture of “hot goth chick” isn’t even really a goth chick…

        In fact it just looks like a chick.

        What 18-25 year old women doesn’t have a shit load of eyeliner, pierced something and dark streaks in their hair. hell my 12 year old niece has dark streaks and she listens to Justin Biber.

    2. Fuck you, Almanian.

    3. If you tell other people they deserve to die of cancer, you deserve to be eaten by a bear.

    4. The clove cigarillos are pretty gross. The clove cigarettes are much, much tastier than regular cigarettes.

      Though I still prefer the pipe.

      1. Fucking crackheads.

  2. To comply with its trade commitments, the WTO panel said, the U.S. government must either lift the ban on clove cigarettes or extend it to menthol cigarettes.

    Let’s all guess which option the US will choose.

    1. Even though I am incapable of this emotion you call love, I too was consuming clove cigarettes concurrent with my discovery of the geometry and chemistry involved in human reproduction.

    2. I don’t know… A menthol ban would be politically unpopular, so I would bet against it.

      The government will likely pick Option #3: ignore the WTO.

      1. I’m betting on this one. The gov’t will come up with some bullshit reason the WTO decision shouldn’t apply, and either the WTO will decide to just forget about the whole damn thing, or the issue will be tied up in court for the next 20 years, thus providing much-needed employment for lawyers and bureaucrats.

        1. Nah – we’ll pay subsidize Indonesian clove cigarette makers like we do Brazilian cotton farmers.

  3. I have fond memories of cloves (unlike menthols)…I was falling in luuuurrrrrve the first time I had one.

    1. Your primitive threading technology has failed me again. I wish to destroy it.

      1. Are you Comic Book Guy or something?

        1. I am not. I do not possess the folliclular density to support a pony-tail. Unless I was allowed to fashion it from a pony.

          1. Wow. Now I am reading your comments in Comic Book Guy voice and it’s freaking me out how natural it sounds.

              1. Upon further consideration, the tone is too perfect not to be intentional. The monster that is SugarFree has many faces.

                1. It was not my intention to imitate this so-called “Comic Book Guy”–whom I gather is some sort of cartoon character on television (also known to some as “TV.”)

                  1. Worst episode ever.

  4. It could be racist because you’re banning products that other races like.

  5. They are the only cigarettes that almost kinda smell good. Reminds of trying to pick up hippie chicks in college.

  6. I recall a coffee shop that had chess boards and sold single cigs.
    Used to buy a cup and a clove, and play a game with a random stranger.
    Now the cloves are illegal, the selling of single cigs is illegal, and there’s probably a law in the works to ban chess in public.

    That’s how we create jobs and stimulate the economy: by banning things.

    1. I find your comment humorous.

    2. You guys just aren’t trying any more.


    3. It got me my job, and it got my cousin a job as a prison guard.

      Hey, do you have a dog?

    4. I really don’t get the rationale for the single cigarette ban. It’s as if they are saying “if you want to smoke just one, too bad. You must smoke 20”.

      1. If people are allowed to sell single cigarettes then teh childrenz might fork over a quarter for a square instead of having to buy a whole pack!

        Why do you want teh childrenz to smoke?
        Why do you hate teh childrenz?

        Child hater! Child hater!

      2. Kids (who can’t take the pack home) buy single cigarettes. Rumor has it the bodega by my house was complicit.

      3. There is a tobacco shop in Ann Arbor (of all places) where they sell single cigarettes. They have a nice blend of brands so it’s a nice treat to try a Russian, English or ??? ciggie.

        Note – I only smoke on special occasions – like when I’m drinking beer with my friends.

  7. Not banning clove cigarettes would be racist against “alternative” teenagers in the 90’s and we can’t have that.

  8. I started smoking camels and marlboros when I was 12… that kept going until I was 17 and discovered clove cigarettes. Cloves made me retch.. and then I started to retch when I smoked normal cigarettes.

    Thank you clove cigarettes for making me kick the habit.

  9. How the hell does the WTO even exist?

    I cannot for the life of see why any nation would volunteer to give up its right to regulate its trade for the sake of trade.

    Anyway over the next 20 years I expect it to reverse its mission to become a world governing agency that requires regulation of its members states trade for the sake of unions/apocalyptic environmental cults/wealth redistribution.

    1. pls wipe the beck off ur lips before speaking

      1. You think free trade needs a bureaucracy?

  10. Dudes, me friend somehow had djarums. I was like “yo holmes I thought these was made illegal” and he was like “fuck nah son, my friend got em down at the corner store”.

    So, are cloves available or not? This website and others led me to believe they were all gone.

    1. Theoretically, gone. In practice, I still see them around occasionally too. I suspect that’s a combination of illegal imports and old stock still being sold.

    2. Your friend probably had the Djarum Black “cigars”. Shortly after the ban, Djarum started putting out a “cigar” version of their cigarettes. They’re basically cigarillos which I will smoke until the ban is lifted if ever.

  11. bill from Philip Morris, the leading American tobacco company, which sells a lot of menthol cigarettes. Indonesian kretek makers had considerably less influence on the legislation.

    Umm….Philip Morris owns the Indonesian company that produces the clove cigarettes, since 2005 – look the PMI website. In addition, you are quoting the statistics for clove cigarette consumption in the US. In Indonesia “High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs; and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.…..z1YGJa0qc3

    Philip Morris paid $4.8bn for Sampoerna, a manufacturer of kretek, clove-flavoured cigarettes, which are consumed by 90 per cent of Indonesia’s roughly 70m smokers. After snapping up several leading brands, it commands about 30 per cent of the market and is the leading tobacco company.” – on – 90% of smokers is a hell of a lot of children.

  12. I had just discovered clove cigarettes about a year before they were banned. I would have one, maybe two, about once a month usually while I was drinking with friends, out on a sidewalk outside a bar or something. I really really enjoyed them, actually. I’m still pissed about it.

    Although I didn’t even THINK of rolling my own. That is a great idea.

    God I hate government in the marketplace. So much. So so much.

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