When Eric Garner died at the hands of police in New York City, he was selling cigarettes. The War on Drugs has long had a disparate impact on blacks, from the racially-tinged bans on marijuana to the difference in prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine. So at a time when we are looking for ways to decrease interactions with the police, does it make sense to be expanding the War on Drugs?
Smoking is bad. Far too many people have buried parents, siblings and children from lung cancer caused by smoking. It is good to educate people of the dangers of smoking and it is encouraging that smoking has dropped sharply, from nearly 70% in 1950 to only 14% today. This is due to education about the dangers of smoking and the fact that smoking is much less socially acceptable than it was in decades past.
But banning menthol cigarettes is a step in the wrong direction that will inevitably target blacks. Worse yet, it will create an unregulated black market, both of homemade cigarettes and menthol cigarettes smuggled in from other countries. This could be a benefit to drug cartels, as well as drug smugglers in China, where we already get significant amounts of fentanyl. Expanding the War on Drugs to menthol cigarettes will only increase the societal harms, including increased crime, caused by the drug war.
Educating people about the dangers of smoking and making smoking socially frowned upon has worked. Smoking rates have fallen dramatically for all races. But like it or not, there is and will continue to be a demand for menthol cigarettes. People know the harm of cigarettes, just as they know the dangers of meth, heroin and fentanyl. The answer is not to include menthol cigarettes in the War on Drugs. The answer is continued harm-reduction efforts. Biden’s scheme will make things worse, not better.