Activist Groups Plead Against Menthol Ban

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Americans for Tax Reform has released a letter signed by 36 organizations representing millions of taxpayers and consumers throughout the United States urging the Food and Drug Administration to reject a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes.

The letter notes the social impact of criminalizing an activity undertaken by over 18 million Americans, primarily from minority communities, asserting, “If this proposal were to be enacted, it is inevitable that it would lead to further confrontations between individuals and law enforcement and break down trust even further. In addition, by diverting law enforcement resources to preventing the sale of menthol cigarettes, this policy will reduce the resources available for the prevention and solving of property and violent crimes.”

The letter continues, “We further draw your attention to the fact that any comprehensive analysis of the data from jurisdictions where menthol products have been banned demonstrates that, while the majority of users switch to nonmenthol cigarettes, over 20 percent of menthol smokers moved to purchasing illicit products through the black market. Not only does this put all parties involved at risk of police involvement, the illicit tobacco market has increasingly been run by sophisticated international criminal syndicates, often with links to sex trafficking, money laundering and even, increasingly, terrorism.”

For these reasons, as the letter noted, the U.S. State Department has explicitly called tobacco smuggling, “a threat to national security.”

The letter also recognized the importance of promoting harm reduction over prohibition, writing, “If the FDA wishes to reduce smoking rates, the best way of doing this is not through bans but rather embracing life-saving new technologies to help smokers quit.

“The science is now overwhelming that the most effective way for smokers to quit is through the use of noncombustible reduced-risk tobacco alternatives, ranging from vapor and “heat-not-burn” devices to oral nicotine-delivery systems or moist loose tobacco (which the FDA already allows to be marketed as reducing the cancer risk for persons who make the switch).”

If the FDA wishes to reduce smoking rates, the best way of doing this is not through bans but rather embracing life-saving new technologies to help smokers quit.

Americans for Tax Reform

The letter concluded by urging the FDA to “engage in evidence-based policymaking and embrace new technologies and alternative nicotine-delivery systems that have been proven will be able to save millions of American lives.”

Earlier, the American Civil Liberties Union also sent a letter, signed by 27 civil liberty and racial justice organizations, expressing its concern about the impact on minorities of a menthol ban.

“At this pivotal moment, as the public demands an end to police violence erupting from minor offenses, we call on the Biden administration to rethink its approach and employ harm reduction strategies over a ban that will lead to criminalization,” said Aamra Ahmad, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd—only a few years removed from the killing of Eric Garner, a Black man killed by NYPD for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes—the racially disparate impact of the criminal legal system has captured the nation’s attention. It is now clear that policies that amount to prohibition have serious racial justice implications.”

Anti-tobacco activist Stanton Glantz dismissed the argument that getting rid of menthol would lead to more police violence against African Americans as baseless. He accused the ACLU of advocating tobacco positions after taking industry money.

“The ACLU has been carrying the tobacco industry’s water for decades,” Glantz wrote on his blog. The ACLU has opposed clean indoor air laws since shortly after I first got involved in trying to pass them in 1978, arguing against the evidence that secondhand smoke was dangerous and that there was a right to smoke.

“Why? Thanks to a series of reports in the early 1990s by legendary Washington Post investigative reporter Morton Mintz (Nieman Reports, Advocacy Institute), we now know that the ACLU secretly accepted millions of dollars from the tobacco industry,” he added.