Democratic Congressional Leader Steny Hoyer recently indicated that House leaders will bring a bill banning flavored tobacco products to the floor sometime in the next few months. The bill they are looking to have members vote on, introduced by Congressman Pallone, includes a ban on menthol products.
We all support preventing teens from having access to nicotine products, but a prohibition on flavored tobacco products for legal adults does not work and would have wide ranging negative effects on our community. While I understand the intention of members of Congress might be good, I was saddened to read that Congressman Lacy Clay has come out in support of this menthol tobacco ban.
As we saw with the 1920s prohibition, criminal networks are ready and willing to take over the new illegal marketplace if this bill becomes law. Prohibition on products that are legal and widely used by adults will result in an underground market that increases the danger in our communities. This is exactly why in 2009, a Democratic-led Congress and the Obama Administration specifically chose not to include a ban on menthol cigarettes when they passed the Tobacco Control Act and signed it into law.
This ban will do little to reduce smoking, but will increase the number of traffickers and smugglers in our community.
Not only will this policy decrease our safety, it increases the probability that the products that will end up on the streets will be manufactured in a way that is not compliant to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and standards.
While we can all agree that smoking has risks, smoking illicit products manufactured in an unregulated setting increases negative health risks exponentially. We saw this all too clearly with the acute lung disease epidemic that spread across the nation last year, which seemed to have a clear connection to the sale of THC vaping products on the underground market.
In addition, a flavored tobacco ban will also ironically decrease the funds available that are currently used for anti-smoking campaigns and healthcare costs, hindering the government’s ability to promote harm reduction tactics that will reduce smoking in the long run, without all the negative consequences for our community.
I encourage Congressman Clay to stand alongside Reverend Al Sharpton, who has strongly opposed menthol bans, as well as the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, who have pointed out that a menthol ban could lead to potentially deadly encounters with police by encouraging an illicit market.
Tobacco 21 became law late last year, which public health experts have agreed will reduce teens access to tobacco products. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson recently launched the state’s new youth vaping education campaign to bring attention to the effects of e-cigarettes and vaping products. The FDA is cracking down on manufacturers who advertise to minors and have poor age verification mechanisms.
Cigarette smoking has fallen dramatically over the last decade — and this decline has only accelerated in recent years. We are headed in the right direction to reduce the unsettling trend in teen vaping as well as the use of tobacco products as a whole. Unfortunately, a flavored tobacco ban that includes menthol cigarettes will likely cause more harm than good.
A.J. Moll, from St. Louis, heads up Missouri Smoke Free, a not-for-profit (501c4) tobacco harm reduction organization working to create a healthier Missouri.