ACLU to WH: Proposed Menthol Ban Is 'Unconstitutional Policing' Packs of menthol cigarettes sits on a table. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images
By Jim Thomas | Wednesday, 28 April 2021 08:32 PM
The ACLU and dozens of other organizations, have written a letter to the the Biden Administration saying a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes would lead to “unconstitutional policing.”
The proposal, expected to be announced this week, stems from the Food and Drug Administration’s finding in 2013 that menthols are harder to quit than regular cigarettes and likely pose a greater health risk. The agency also found that menthols are likely associated with increased smoking initiation by young people because the cooling properties of menthol mask the harshness of cigarette smoke, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The ban, which would not take effect immediately, is a move that activists say would help Black Americans who are disproportionately harmed by the tobacco industry.
The ban comes as the FDA faces a deadline to respond to a 2013 citizen petition to act on menthol products, which escalated to a court filing in June 2020.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed menthol products to young people and Black Americans and has historically placed larger amounts of advertising in Black publications.
Over 7 out of 10 Black youths ages 12-17 who reported smoking use menthol cigarettes, and Black adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial groups, said the CDC.
Proponents of the ban believe menthol cigarettes to be a social justice issue, but critics say a ban could lead to an underground market for such products, and more opportunity for criminal activity.
In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock and several other officials, the ACLU along with dozens of others including the Drug Policy Alliance said while such a ban "no doubt well-intentioned," it would have "serious racial justice implications," reported Fox News.
"Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction," the letter stated. "A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement."
The letter attempted to link recent police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Duante Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant and Eric Garner to the menthol ban, reported Fox News.
"A number of police encounters resulting in tragic deaths are linked to police enforcement of tobacco laws: Eric Garner, killed by a police chokehold, was illegally selling ‘loosie’ cigarettes, and Michael Brown was killed after being suspected of stealing a box of cigarillos," the letter stated. "Even in the case of George Floyd, police were called to investigate a counterfeit bill used to purchase cigarettes."
The letter called for an approach that would "avoid solutions that will create yet another reason for armed police to engage citizens on the street based on the pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety."
"Our experience with alcohol, opioid, and cannabis prohibition teaches us that that is a policy disaster waiting to happen, with Black and other communities of color bearing the brunt," the letter stated.
Menthol is a substance naturally found in mint plants such as peppermint and spearmint. It gives a cooling sensation. It is often used to relieve minor pain and irritation and prevent infection.
Menthol was first added to cigarettes in the 1920s. In the past, the tobacco industry marketed menthol cigarettes as being healthier and safer. Advertisements emphasized their cool and refreshing taste. The ads often showed nature, coldness, springtime, water, and other refreshing qualities. The tobacco industry also targeted “beginner” smokers, smokers with health concerns, and certain population groups. Many people chose menthol cigarettes because they believed they were safer than non-menthol cigarettes. They are not, says smokefree.gov.
Like other cigarettes, menthol cigarettes harm nearly every organ in the body. They cause many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Some research shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.