Banning Menthol Cigarettes: The Disproportionate Effects and the Illegal Underground Market
By Malik Aziz, National Chairman
National Black Police Association
Nationwide (February 2, 2011) -- The National Black Police Association (NBPA) has a firm foundation, a strong commitment, and an unbreakable connection to the Black community. The NBPA is obligated to address any issues in the Black community that are not equitable, fair or just. Our role is advocacy and activism to protect the greater good.
Our members work in all levels of law enforcement and we know all too well the illegal market of cigarettes in virtually every major city. Law enforcement officers answer calls, take reports, work covertly, and make arrests associated with this world wide market of cigarette marketing and illicit sales. However, without taking into consideration the vast resources that it takes to fight cigarette smuggling and illicit sales, our U.S. Government is considering regulatory actions that may enhance this market and create new avenues of crime that law enforcement officers will have to deal with.
In Washington, a scientific advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying menthol in cigarettes. Its role is to issue a recommendation in the spring of 2011 about whether to regulate or ban menthol cigarettes.
The NBPA does not endorse or support any product that causes harm to the Black community; produces ill health effects; causes addiction; or contributes to disproportionate law enforcement action. We would rather play a greater role in smoking cessation and prevention programs.
Yet, this regulatory action being considered by the FDA would ban menthol cigarettes which constitutes 30 percent of the current U.S. tobacco market. It is reasonable to conclude that any action banning 30 percent of a currently legal market would create and enhance an illegal contraband cigarette market. This certainly causes concern to many law enforcement officers around the nation.
In this illegal market we have already observed thefts and robberies of local stores; crimes against consumers; and illicit sales in otherwise legitimate business. These activities were brought on by tax increases that were believed to serve the greater good of the people. We are coping with cigarette smuggling from one state to another based on taxes alone.
In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) believes the illegal cigarette market to be the number one underground market in the world.
It is well known that cigarette smoking is dangerous and contributes to mortality rates from tobacco related diseases. Again, the NBPA does not support nor endorse products that contribute disproportionately to death among the people we represent. But the question is not one of tobacco usage, but whether a ban on menthol in cigarettes will make the public safer or will a well-intentioned focus on public health backfire with far more damaging consequences.
It is our belief that if menthol cigarettes are banned, contraband versions mimicking name brands will enter the flourishing illegal market. These new unregulated illegal products would be sold in cigarette houses, on corners, in cars and back alleyways. Who will ask the young smoker to present identification in the back alley or at the door of a vehicle? Who will regulate the ingredients that are placed in cigarettes produced illegally? We have no desire to send 30 percent of smokers underground to purchase menthol cigarettes.
Our communities do not need another avenue of crime to deal with and overtaxed local law enforcement officials do not need to be distracted from devoting time to the more serious criminal issues that plague our neighborhoods.
The core of the issue is tobacco usage, not a specific additive to the tobacco. The legal cigarette market contributes $40 billion a year to state and federal governments in taxes. This money was to be spent on efforts to stop tobacco usage, but has it been?
The NBPA would like to see more of these tax revenues spent and focused on smoking prevention and cessation programs, especially among our youth. We believe funding law enforcement programs and operations that focus on youth campaigns and prevention programs will have a positive effect in our communities.
As the federal government studies this issue, we recommend that the practical impact be studied with law enforcement officials regarding the resources they will require to enforce a menthol ban.
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