Menthol Cigarette Bans Will Fail Like Every Other Prohibition Scheme

The winners in every battle over restrictions are the people who do whatever they please without regard for government officials.


Menthol cigarettes are especially bad and should be banned, say a coalition of 23 state attorneys general in a recent letter to the Food and Drug Administration. The officials are eager to impose a new prohibition even as marijuana restrictions fall away across the country and Americans take tentative steps to undo decades of failed prohibition of other intoxicating drugs.

"The compelling and consistent scientific evidence shows that removing menthol cigarettes from the U.S. market will likely reduce youth smoking initiation, improve smoking cessation outcomes in adult smokers, advance health equity, and benefit public health," insists the letter co-sponsored by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. It's also signed by their counterparts in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

As dubious as the claims of benefits from banning a particular flavor of tobacco may be, they don't venture quite so far into the land of magical thinking as another assertion in the letter. After several paragraphs insisting that they're up to the challenge, the attorneys general wave away the seemingly inevitable hurdles that have hobbled the enforcement of every other prohibition in human history.

"There is little reason to suggest that prohibiting menthol cigarettes will cause the emergence of an illicit market that will threaten the public health gains from prohibiting menthol cigarettes or that that state and federal authorities will be unable to prevent the emergence of such illicit activity," the letter adds.

If "illicit activity" is no concern when it comes to menthol cigarettes, why do reports suggest that Massachusetts, whose attorney general signed the letter, is on the receiving end of a flood of illegal products smuggled from elsewhere?

"With every month that passes, the state's ban on flavored tobacco becomes increasingly absurd," according to Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association. "All anyone needs to do is look at the excise tax stamp numbers from June through November to understand how ineffective and ridiculous this ban is. Rhode Island and New Hampshire have combined to sell 18.9 million more stamps than they did over the same period in 2019 while Massachusetts has sold 17.7 million fewer."

Admittedly, a national ban would prevent the smuggling of forbidden cigarettes from one state to another. But that would only open the floodgates to potentially riskier black-market cigarettes from outside the country.

"Counterfeit cigarettes are manufactured under low quality-control standards and are smuggled into the United States outside of legitimate commerce to avoid paying taxes attributed to legitimate tobacco manufacturers and sellers," warns the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). "The trade of counterfeit tobacco products is a rapidly growing global problem."

That experience undoubtedly informs the opinion of Rich Marianos, a retired ATF assistant director.

"Menthol cigarettes are still the preference of many adults who choose to smoke," Marianos wrote this week in response to a proposed prohibition in Connecticut, whose attorney general signed the letter. "Banning that product will just push sales out of the stores and create a lucrative illicit market."

Marianos cites research by the Michigan-based Mackinac Institute to point out that "one in four packs of cigarettes in Connecticut are smuggled into the state" as it is. Underground dealers won't have to do anything but shake up their inventory to respond to a menthol ban.

Mackinac regularly surveys the black market in cigarettes. According to its latest research, more than half of all cigarettes sold in New York (whose attorney general signed the letter) are smuggled in from elsewhere. In Kwame Raoul's Illinois, 17.39 percent of all cigarettes are smuggled. Lawrence Wasden's Idaho has a different issue, with 27.41 percent of cigarettes purchased there exported to high-tax states for illegal resale.

"Simply prohibiting a popular product doesn't mean it will go away," Mackinac's Michael D. LaFaive, Todd Nesbit, and Ulrik Boesen concluded last summer. "Instead it will enrich lawbreakers and law-abiding retailers and wholesalers in states where menthol cigarettes remain legal."

Menthol bans don't seem to "reduce youth smoking initiation" either, which the state law officers claim as a goal. A report on a 2018 menthol cigarette ban by seven Canadian provinces finds that "provincial menthol bans significantly increased non-menthol cigarette smoking among youths, resulting in no overall net change in youth smoking rates."

Not surprisingly, given the history of black markets in general and tobacco in particular, the researchers "also document evidence of evasion: provincial menthol bans shifted smokers' cigarette purchases away from grocery stores and gas stations to First Nations reserves (where the menthol bans do not bind)."

None of this should be a shock given that marijuana prohibition is in retreat after years of failure. A decade ago, before legalization in many states for recreational use, 40 percent of Americans had tried the stuff despite laws against its use. Obviously, they obtained marijuana illegally.

Oregon appears to be leading the way for similar reform of restrictions on other intoxicants. Again, the public has grown familiar with mushrooms, LSD, heroin, and other drugs despite legal obstacles. As Jacob Sullum noted in last month's print issue of Reason, "Drugs declare victory in war in drugs."

The real victors aren't the products, though. The eventual winners in every battle over restrictions are the people who buy, sell, provide, and use whatever goods and services they please without regard for the hopes and fears of government officials.

The state attorneys general who signed the letter to the FDA couldn't stand in the way of people who wanted marijuana, they haven't effectively blocked access to other drugs the public likes, and they've had little luck preventing people from evading high tobacco taxes. A ban on menthol cigarettes offers no more likelihood of success than any other hair-brained prohibition scheme.

NEXT: Why Does Janet Yellen Suddenly Sound Like Trump on Trade?

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    1. This. Why can't Tucille understand they are protecting the poors and especially the poor blacks who purchase these from their own reckless decisions.

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    2. Absolutely it's racist! I notice they don't talk about Blacks in the arguments to ban menthol. But they used to. This proposal has been around in various forms for at least thirty five years. And it was always targeted against Blacks. Because it's the stereotype that Blacks smoke menthols. That this stereotype may have its basis in fact, it's no less a stereotype and White Politicians and their White bootlickers are using a stereotype to keep Blacks from making their own choices.

      Which is racist by every definition. It's racially based bigotry, and it's a perpetuating a power imbalance between two racial groups.

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      2. "I notice they don't talk about blacks"
        Oh, but they do. It's just written in Woke Dogwhistle. "advance health equity" is code for "black people smoke more menthols, and we must save them from unhealthy outcomes by treating them like children so they don't keep getting sick more than the average white dude".

    3. Banning menthols: racist

      Not banning menthols: also racist.

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        Wokes: [we can have Black in STEM, we have to keep them down, but how?} "Logic is Racist! We have to stop teaching it to Blacks in school!"

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  1. Amazing how intolerant the left is.

  2. Cuomo aid admits they hid nursing home data to avoid scrutiny from feds.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19 — telling them “we froze” out of fear that the true numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, The Post has learned.

    The stunning admission of a coverup was made by secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because “right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,” according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting.

    “He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”

    In addition to attacking Cuomo’s fellow Democratic governors, DeRosa said, Trump “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”

    “And basically, we froze,” she told the lawmakers on the call.

    1. "“And basically, we froze,” she told the lawmakers on the call."
      No. You went into action to cover your asses.

      1. Also called "obstruction of justice" if some investigation is actually underway.

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    2. Man, the left's aversion to mean Tweets really has no limits.

    3. "I'm a giant fucking pussy, so I didn't do my job"

  3. Talks about banning menthol cigarettes aren't going to go anywhere - banning menthol cigarettes is racist.

    1. They did it in Mass.

      1. You mean the state where Boston is...

        1. And where a lot of people already bought their smokes in NH.

      2. I used to live in Boston, on several occasions on the street a black person would walk up asking to bum a cigarette only say ‘never mind’ and walk away in disbelief when they found out it wasn’t a Newport.

        1. In my town menthol cigs are regularly marked down to less than 50% of their normal prices cause nobody wants them

  4. So much for the Dems being "for personal liberty".

    1. Or unity.

    2. Your body my choice

  5. Counterfeit tobacco? Is the tobacco fake? Are they selling Marl0r0s?

    1. Counterfeit xanax pops up in drugs in drug bust all the time. It's usually some weird benzodiazipine from China and fentanyl.

      So I assume counterfeit tobacco would just be shittier tobacco masquerading as marlbs or whatever.

    2. Marketed as "Beyond Tobacco(tm)", and certified Fair Trade Vegan.

      1. Impossible Cigarette (tm)

        1. Womenthol


          1. ^^^ Winnah, Winnah, Chicken Dinnah!

  6. So would this apply to camel crush? I'm not even sure if they still make those since it's been a while since I quit. It's a shitty normal cigarette that becomes a shitty menthol by crushing a ball in the filter.

  7. As one who successfully campaigned to reduce cigarette consumption and smoking rates for the past 35 years, I've been opposing these nonsensical and puritanical tobacco flavoring bans for the past two decades, and vapor flavoring bans for the past decade.

    The Big Pharma financed groups that have been lobbying for these flavor bans (i.e. CTFK, ACS, AHA, ALA, AHA, AAP, AMA)
    also lobbied to ban sales of very low risk smokeless tobacco and vapor products (which are 99% less harmful than cigarettes), and low risk cigars (which are about 90% less harmful than cigarettes).

    To create a pack of menthol cigarettes, simply place a menthol cough drop into an opened pack of non menthol cigarettes, and wait one day.

    Viola, you have just manufactured a pack of menthol cigarettes, although the menthol flavor in the cigarettes closest to the cough drop is stronger than the other cigarettes in the pack.

    1. "To create a pack of menthol cigarettes, simply place a menthol cough drop into an opened pack of non menthol cigarettes, and wait one day."

      What if you make the carton a little taller and put several menthol cough drops across the top or bottom of the cigarettes?

    2. So then, we must outlaw menthol!

  8. It's been at least thirty five years since I've been seeing proposals to ban Menthol cigarettes.

    It's racist as it's always targeted towards Blacks. Wanting to ban all tobacco is one thing, and of course wrong, but to specifically target one flavor that is stereotypically smoked by Blacks is unquestionably racist. It's White politicians demanding to control the choices that Blacks can make.

    What makes this proposal different is that they're no longer making it explicit that they're targeting Blacks. Maybe they finally realized that racism isn't tolerated anymore. But they're still racist, they're just hiding it behind their hand wringing.

    That the entire Woke community isn't coming down on them like a ton of shitbricks is just more evidence that Anti-Racism is nothing more than neoracist doublespeak.

    1. |It’s White politicians demanding to control the choices that Blacks can make.

      As with the Original War On Drugs(tm), it's all about criminalizing behavior to facilitate arrests of People Who Must Not Be Allowed To Do Stuff(r).

  9. Bow down to your Gov-God Saviors -- They ALWAYS know what is best for YOU and your own Liberty isn't even in the top 1,000.

    F-OFF Smoke Nazi's

    the recent clampdown and the little-known nationwide tobacco ban introduced by the Nazis in 1941 as part of their quest for bodily and racial purity.

    While few Germans would dare to point it out publicly, for fear of appearing to praise the Nazi era, some of the most advanced research into the links between tobacco consumption and lung cancer was carried out under the Nazis.

    Under the supervision of the Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research, the ban was imposed in every public building and public space, including air-raid shelters, with Hitler even personally intervening in 1944 to ensure it was extended to trains and buses in order to protect young female conductors. It was even pointed out that Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were all non-smokers, while the 'evil enemies' - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin - all enjoyed a tobacco fix.

    1. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
      C. S. Lewis

  10. It most certainly is racist. Its also child like reasoning.

  11. Back in the day, the Army used to include a small pack of cigarettes in C rations. If you got a pack of menthols, all you had to do was find a black soldier to trade for a non- menthol brand.
    Not sure why they liked them...

  12. That time --- I bought a menthol cigarette at age 20 and killed over dead with no warning what-so-ever from smoking it....

    That time -- I bought menthol cigarettes and smoked them for 50-years and killed over dead with no warning what-so-ever...

    CDC... In 2017 -- 0.0367% Total people died of lung cancer in a *currently* smoking population rate of 20%.

    Ya; The propaganda narrative on this subject is HUGE! Cherry-pickings EVERYWHERE.

    1. We do not have a current smoking rate of 20%. The actual CDC number is 14%. But I don't believe even that. Their definition of "currently smoking" is any adult who smokes at some cigarettes per week. That's a pretty loose definition. Plus we don't know the sampling methods. As a survey that means don't trust it.

      Granted I live in the Health Nut State, but as an ex-smoker I can't see one in seven adults being active smokers.

      1. Depends on who you hang out with. If you only associate with urban professionals, probably no one smokes. But among more blue collar types there are a lot more smokers in my experience. And I sort of split my time between those two worlds.

        1. Depends where an observer hangs out, too.

          A lot of places are so inconvenient to smoke, they aren’t attractive to smokers or they’ll use a nicotine substitute for the time they’re hanging out. Then they go home and smoke, or smoke with friends somewhere else.

          So, you may not see them smoke, but they do.

  13. "advance health equity"

    What the fuck is that and why do we want to advance it?

    1. Because white people just aren't smoking enough these days.

  14. Menthol cigarettes were invented to stop white co-workers from bumming cigarettes from Blacks.

  15. They can have my menthol cigarette when they pry it from my cold dead lips.

    The idea that this is enforceable is at least as stupid as any other prohibition case and even more so.

    It just so happens that I roll my own cigarettes, and use a menthol tobacco and menthol tubes, but even if both of those became unavailable from a "legitimate" supplier, I could just buy or make my own menthol to spray regular tobacco with, or order little crushable beads of menthol flavored oil to insert in the filter a la Camel Crush (I use these sometimes -- 100 or more cost a couple of bucks on Wish including shipping.

    Menthol smokes are, and will remain, easy to get or make.

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