Delay of Menthol Cigarette Ban Incites Debate

Menthol cigarettes | Image by Billy F Blume Jr

The Biden administration announced this week it will delay its plan to ban menthol cigarettes — a policy one organized-crime expert told The Dallas Express should be dropped altogether. 

The implementation of the menthol cigarette ban is delayed until next year, with a new target goal of March, the White House said. The decision was made in response to fears the ban could present a political issue for President Joe Biden on the campaign trail due to the popularity of the product with African Americans, The Washington Post reported.

Richard Marianos, a 27-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who focused on organized crime, said the real concern for the Biden administration is that a menthol cigarette ban would have a horrendous impact if implemented: Law enforcement would be forced to reallocate resources toward countering an already thriving black market for tobacco products. 

“Hopefully, there’s some common sense amongst the administration, and they’re realizing, ‘Oh wait a second, we’re making a mistake here,’” he told The Dallas Express. “The black market is already out of control where flavored tobacco or menthol cigarettes are sold at a higher price.”

“It will cause law enforcement again to shift gears and spend more time on a senseless regulation rather than serving and protecting,” he continued. “When is public safety not part of your public health strategy?”

But others argue that the ban is a necessary measure to protect public health.

“[Delaying the ban] would be devastating,” David Margolius, the director of public health for Cleveland, per the Post. “Cities like Cleveland, and states with conservative legislatures, are really counting on our White House to protect our community, because we’ve seen that the state legislature won’t act, and they may even act to preempt any local regulation.”

“We need the White House to act to save lives,” he continued.

Some activists and policymakers in favor of the ban argue that black smokers are nearly three times more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than white smokers — and that black men have the highest lung cancer death rate in the country. A menthol cigarette ban, they argue, is essential to public health.

Still, Marianos, who now works as an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University, counters that a menthol cigarette ban would be nearly impossible for police to enforce. He said the policy is well-intentioned but misguided, as smoking rates are at a historic low and illegal vaping products are growing at a rapid pace, especially among teenagers.

“We’re missing the boat here in terms of what we can be focusing on,” he told The Dallas Express. “I don’t think anyone has done any research — I don’t think any subject matter experts are involved in explaining to the administration what the real problem is. And I think they’re allowing our children to be put at greater risk than ever before.”

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