The Biden administration is taking aim at menthol cigarettes. Under a new proposal, the minty tobacco product could be outright banned by the federal government. Not all cigarettes, mind you, although there is talk along those lines too, just menthols. The plan isn’t just wrongheaded, it’s dangerous and deeply unfair as well. Also, like so much of Biden’s backwards agenda, it places needless emphasis on race.
So why ban menthols and only menthols? It is because they are the type of cigarette most favored by black smokers. This is a ham-fisted attempt at equity that not only doesn’t create equity but has the potential to harm black smokers more than their white counterparts, who tend to be less likely to smoke Kools or Newports.
By banning the sale of menthols nationwide, Biden would be inviting not just a black market, but a new and deadly black market our country has thus far avoided. As it stands now, the vast majority of cigarette smuggling in the United States is from low tobacco tax states to high tobacco tax states. There is very little international bootlegging into our country because there is no need for it. This menthol move will change that dramatically.
With menthols flat-out banned, bootleggers and the black market will have to look overseas, mostly to China for their supplies. This is a crippling problem in much of Europe and in Australia that we have thus far avoided.
What is worse is that bootleg cigarettes from China are often counterfeit, unregulated, products that do more harm than legal cigarettes. A pack smuggled from Virginia to New York is the real product, it just has a different tax stamp. Smokes from China could be anything.
But even without the concerns regarding Chinese counterfeiting, claims of equity for this policy that punishes black smokers are absurd on their face. One imagines Biden views this as racially progressive because he imagines it will diminish rates of smoking among blacks. Even if it does, though, what a horribly paternalistic plan.
White smokers, Biden seems to think, should be free to make their own decisions about sucking down a Marlboro Light, either because they are better able to handle that choice, or because they are on some level disposable. Black smokers, on the other hand, must be protected by the government from their own bad choices. The proposal limits Americans’ choices on a racial basis, but of course Biden thinks he is doing it for black people’s own good.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union has objected to a racialized approach to smoking. The group opposed a House bill in 2020 that sought to ban menthols on the very basis of its disproportionate impact on black Americans. They also oppose this ban. Encouraging the black community in particular to engage in an illegal cigarette marketplace will only increase dangerous police interactions, the very thing progressives claim they wish to make less common.
This is just another example of a race-based leftist policy destined to go hopelessly awry to the detriment of black Americans. Just as defund the police efforts have led to skyrocketing crime rates in black communities across our country, which is why black voters overwhelmingly oppose the idea, banning menthols will introduce dangerous fake cigarettes and needless police interactions.
Smoking is a choice that a relatively small percentage of Americans make, fully aware of the health consequences. The idea of banning cigarettes altogether is a terrible one, especially as states fall all over themselves to legalize the smoking of marijuana. But targeting such a ban on just one racial group is an awful tobacco policy and an even worse policy on race.
It is not the job of the federal government to try to create conditions of perfect safety for all Americans, or even for black Americans. The crisis of the past year should make crystal clear the dangers of unintended consequences when the state seeks to protect us like a mother protects an infant. The bottom line is that Americans should have the freedom to choose to smoke — all Americans. That includes black Americans.
It really seemed like progressives had thought of every possible way to divide our country further and further on racial lines, but apparently they had not. Now even our vices are to be boxed off into racial categories by Biden and his army of bureaucrats. Soon there will scarcely be a sliver of our society left not defined and dealt with on the meaningless basis of skin color.
Biden should know better, and there was likely a time he did. Now he just parrots critical race theory mantras instead of even trying to engage rationally on race-based questions in our country. Everybody will lose if this nonsense is enacted.
Well, maybe not everybody: Chinese purveyors of fake menthol cigarettes will likely wind up the big winner.