Commentary

The Government Is Coming After Menthol Cigarettes. Seriously

By Craig Shirley | April 30, 2021 | 12:37pm EDT
Featured is Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. (Photo credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
Featured is Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. (Photo credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “Beware the Nanny State. The state that takes too much from you in order to do too much for you.”

Fake milestones are important to some people, especially when one has to keep up the image of productivity.

If this weren’t the case, then perhaps we wouldn’t be hearing about the latest bit of tomfoolery to come out of the federal government. President Biden has reached the 100 day milestone of his first term and to mark the occasion, his government is going after menthol cigarettes. 

Yes, you read that correctly. No, you aren’t crazy, or if you are then not as crazy as the bureaucracy.

Biden’s administration is proposing a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes, as well as flavored variants of cigars. While any such ban would probably not take effect for a few years, on principle it’s just another attempt by the government to stick its nose into private business. Only here, the unintended consequences go beyond simple government overreach.

Seriously, does the Food and Drug Administration have nothing better to do with its time than ban a certain flavor of cigarettes? I thought the health determinants were bad no matter what kind of cigarette you smoked. Or will they create a new bureaucracy, the department of Menthol Cigarette Control run by more mindless bureaucrats?

At any rate, one of the reasons for this new push from Biden’s FDA is that, ostensibly, menthol-flavored cigarettes disproportionately affect African-Americans. The problem with this is that even the usual suspects in the social justice world aren’t buying what the FDA is selling.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra saying that while the ban was “well-intentioned,” it could have an adverse effect on the very communities Biden claims to support.

"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. A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement."

Even the Most Holy and Sanctimonious Rev. Al Sharpton has spoken out against banning these cigarettes because it would discriminate against African-American smokers purchasing them.

When I find myself agreeing with Al Sharpton and the ACLU, I know that something is very, very wrong indeed.

True, I’m upset over free market capitalism being assaulted, but the activist arguments against this ban are not without merit. 

Police across the country find themselves in an embattled position as they struggle with producing meaningful reform while under siege from anti-American defunding activists. The last thing police need is a spate of videotaped incidents involving African-Americans that begin over something as trivial as a cigarette. 

Police and African-Americans building a trustful relationship is crucial as we work to dial down the heat in our country’s national conversation. Making something like a cigarette illegal isn’t going to suddenly make everything better.

Does Biden, Becerra, or whoever made the call really think that making a specific flavor of cigarette illegal is going to improve the lives of smokers? And what’s more, why do they think it’s a good idea to try and stop any American, regardless of skin color, from buying a product they willingly choose to smoke?

The answer is of course because Biden and his team want to look like they’re doing something to improve race relations. It goes without saying that this is one of the great tasks facing our country, and while much has changed for the better since the days of the Civil Rights era, we always should be striving towards that more perfect union.

But if Biden and company think that banning certain products from the market is the answer, then heaven help us if this is indicative of where the wind blows. Are we suddenly going to ban bell peppers or onions because they make our eyes water? Or how about we ban outdoor grilling because every year your idiot next door neighbor burns his hand on the Fourth of July. 

It sounds ludicrous because it is ludicrous, and even Al Sharpton thinks it’s ludicrous. Cigarettes are already a heavily regulated product, and in that case it makes sense as there are serious health risks. But trite as it sounds, ultimately it’s up to every American, black or white, to decide if they want to choose to smoke or not.

It’s cold hard capitalism, but it’s the truth. And it’s better than the FDA wasting our time and money by trying to fight discrimination with more discrimination. 

We own the government. And its about time we told it to give up something. Like stupidity for starters.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

Craig Shirley is the author of four bestselling books Ronald Reagan's campaigns, including "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980." He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, "December 1941," and is the president of Shirley & McVicker Public Affairs.

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