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Wednesday
Mar092011

The Government War on Menthol

Project 21’s Horace CooperExpect the Food and Drug Administration to soon embark on an effort to ban menthol cigarettes — likely creating upheaval on par with the Prohibition era in the process.

After recently criminalizing the tiny trade in flavored cigarettes, the FDA is predicted to go big and go after menthols — the choice of around 30 percent of smokers and approximately three-quarters of black smokers.

A commentary from Project 21 member Horace Cooper just posted by the Daily Caller discusses the can of worms such a pursuit would open up and how the NAACP’s past and expected future support of such a ban is hypocritical.

Regarding the potential for a ban to increase crime, Horace writes:

[T]his 21st-century attempt at Prohibition will be a boon for smugglers.  Cigarettes are already recognized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as the likely “number-one black market commodity in the world.”

Cigarette smuggling — now largely focused on avoiding the many taxes imposed on tobacco — already got a boost in the late ’90s when additional fees were added to comply with the tobacco industry’s settlement deal with state attorneys general.  If menthol cigarettes are banned entirely, a new and extremely lucrative market will open up.

According to the ATF, more than $100,000 can be made right now from just a simple minivan full of contraband cigarettes smuggled into New York City.  This puts money into the hands of the mob and even would-be terrorists while simultaneously depriving straining governments of tax revenue.

Don’t forget that someone selling homemade or smuggled menthol cigarettes out of the trunk of a car is also probably not very concerned about asking for proof of age.  This means that creating a new underground market for cigarettes could conceivably increase underage access to tobacco products.

And don’t expect these smuggled smokes will undergo the quality checks that their currently legal counterparts face.

Horace also exposes the NAACP’s double standard of supporting a ban on menthol while its California affiliate endorsed a pro-marijuana proposition of the Golden State ballots last November:

The NAACP supports a ban on menthol cigarettes.  In October, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund president John Payton called it a “national disgrace and a tragedy” that menthol cigarettes are allegedly disproportionally marketed to blacks.

Yet the NAACP’s California State Conference gave its “unconditional endorsement” to California’s Proposition 19 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana use.  Again citing disproportionality, Conference president Alice Huffman called legalizing pot a civil rights issue because of an alleged disproportionate prosecution of black pot users and dealers — a criticism echoed by the national group’s vice president, Hilary O. Shelton.

To read Horace’s complete commentary, click here.

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