The Biden administration announced this morning that the Food and Drug Administration is proceeding with a rulemaking process that would prohibit the commercial sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Like previous efforts to ban flavored tobacco products, this latest action is entirely misguided and would not have a major impact on smoking cessation rates. Outright bans on popular products typically create illicit markets with many unintended consequences. Educated choices made by individuals, not bureaucratic mandates, will be the best way for individuals to quit smoking, should they so choose.
For taxpayers that follow tobacco-related issues, they already know that the FDA has an uneven relationship with tobacco products. They have approved many innovations that are less harmful than cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes, vapor products, and heat-not-burn products that have actually moved so many people towards less harmful tobacco alternatives. However, at the same time, in recent years they have pursued banning e-cigarette flavors, liquid vapor cartridges, and other products despite a lack of scientific support.
Policymakers on Capitol Hill, in state capitals, or within the federal bureaucracy must take care not to overtax, overregulate, or ban a product that can aid in adult harm reduction and over the longer term help to stabilize costs in taxpayer-funded health programs. NTU has long fought for individual freedom and free market policies, and we know all too well that blanket prohibitions are seldom successful. They often lead consumers to turn to untaxed and unregulated black markets to access products.
In fact, when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts implemented a menthol cigarette ban last year, many individuals simply purchased the same products in neighboring states where such a ban did not exist. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, they found that while cigarette sales dropped statewide, sales skyrocketed in states that border Massachusetts, including New Hampshire that experienced a 34 percent increase in sales. Bans don’t work because people will always find a way to get products they like to use, whether it is at a store or through the black market.
While details of the proposed ban are not yet available, NTU looks forward to reviewing the specifics of the rulemaking and submitting comments on ways to better protect businesses, taxpayers, and consumers.