FDA Drug Shortages Briefing (0811) (6777244356).jpg by U.S. Food and Drug Administration is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This week, the Food and Drug Administration unveiled its proposal to completely ban menthol-flavored cigarettes and cigars. While its proponents claim that this prohibition will save lives by decreasing smoking rates, in reality it will lead to increased violent crime and do little to aid in smoking cessation.  

With funds diverted to enforce such a ban, police will be preoccupied with its enforcement rather than stopping real criminal activity. Taxpayer dollars will be wasted hunting down illegal tobacco instead of real crime that hurts communities. In a time of rising violent crime, growing inflation and a recession around the corner tax revenue cannot afford to be wasted on crackdowns on inconsequential things like cigarettes. A police officer shaking down regular people over Newport Longs is a police officer who cannot respond to a car accident or violent assault. 

Additionally, most menthol smokers live in low-income minority neighborhoods. African Americans overwhelmingly smoke menthol cigarettes, with 85% of tobacco consumption being menthol flavored among that demographic. Public trust between black citizens and police is already extremely low and policing these communities for their tobacco consumption will only serve to deepen that divide. Just last year, a black teenager was tased and hogtied for vaping in Ocean City, which banned the action in certain areas in a display of unjust excessive force. Disasters like this will only become more common should the ban be passed. 

This is not to mention that tobacco smuggling will contribute to a potential crime disaster. Illegal tobacco, which the State Department has called “a threat to national security,” will serve as a catalyst for multi-million-dollar crime syndicates by providing an additional revenue stream through smuggling. These groups will then use their money to finance human trafficking and other criminal activities which undermine the safety and welfare of American citizens. Banning menthol tobacco and other products may also paradoxically lead to an increase youth tobacco consumption, as they are not subject to age restrictions which prevent minors from obtaining them. 

Civil liberty organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as law enforcement officials are all opposed to bans on menthol and other flavored tobacco products for these same reasons. 

Should the federal government pass the FDA’s proposal it would constitute a grave mistake for public security. Violent crime will increase as police are preoccupied with the enforcement of a ban which will ultimately fail in its intended goal. Minority communities will be most negatively affected, while criminals will celebrate their new source of income. ATR continues to fight against regressive tobacco legislation like this nationwide.