Recent opinion contributors have argued in favor of banning all flavored cigarette products, including menthol. If banning things made them magically disappear, Prohibition and the war on drugs would have been resounding successes.
A ban on menthol cigarettes is based on the correct premise that they are bad for one’s health. But banning a product that constitutes a third of the overall market will simply send sales underground. Black market revenues go straight into the coffers of the cartels and gangs that endanger our communities.
Worse still, asking officers to police menthol sales will force them to go disproportionately into neighborhoods that already have trust problems with law enforcement and could further erode relations between them. Proponents of the bill scoff at this idea, but just ask Eric Garner’s mother, who recently spoke out against a ban for just this reason.
Proponents of a ban respond that the law would only apply to retailers, and so we shouldn’t concern ourselves with potential police encounters in disadvantaged neighborhoods. But if such a ban is to have any teeth, officers would have to do something about a dealer selling illicit menthols on the corner. Otherwise, what’s the point of the ban?
The proposal to ban menthol cigarettes is based on a noble but misguided notion that society can eliminate dangerous things by waving a legislative wand. History tells us otherwise. The drug war was based on a similar impulse, and the unintended consequences that followed it were disastrous.