Any action banning legal market making contraband market flourish

The issue surrounding the regulation of tobacco: whether to ban menthol, carries great importance for public health advocates and tobacco executives. Adding menthol to cigarettes may increase the likelihood of addiction and make it easier for young people to start smoking, according to preliminary findings of a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel considering whether to recommend a ban or otherwise restrict menthol cigarettes.

The NBPA does not endorse or support any product that causes harm to the black community, produces ill health effects, or causes addiction. Yet menthol cigarettes constitute 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 the 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. 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 believes the illegal cigarette market to be the number-one underground market in the world.

Again, the NBPA does not support or endorse products that contribute to deaths 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 backfire with far more damaging consequences.

Menthol cigarettes are especially popular among young smokers. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 62 percent of middle-school students who smoke begin with menthol cigarettes, whose minty taste can mask the harshness of tobacco.

It is our belief that if menthol cigarettes are banned, contraband versions mimicking name brands will enter the flourishing illegal market. These new unregulated 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 legal cigarette market contributes $40 billion a year to state and federal governments in taxes. The NBPA would like to see more of these tax revenues spent and focused on smoking prevention and cessation programs, especially among our youth. Funding law enforcement programs and operations that focus on youth campaigns and prevention programs will have a positive effect in our communities.