Nanny State Alert: The FDA is Moving to Ban Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes


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This article is excerpted from the FEE Daily, a daily email newsletter where FEE Policy Correspondent Brad Polumbo brings you news and analysis on the top free-market economics and policy stories. Click here to sign up.

The nation is gripped with a public health crisis, but apparently, the bureaucrats over at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) think what we really ought to be focusing on right now is banning menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Their justification? 

“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said. “With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.” 

There are a few major problems with this ban and the paternalistic thinking that underlies it.

1. Adults Should Be Able to Make Consumption Choices for Themselves

Yes, smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, increasing the risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. But these risks are public knowledge. Adults have the right to weigh costs and benefits and make their own decisions about what they do with their bodies. In particular, it’s wildly paternalistic for FDA bureaucrats to condescendingly claim that racial minorities and LGBT people are incapable of deciding things for themselves and need the government to be their nanny.

2. Banning Popular Products Will Create Dangerous Black Markets

Just last year, we saw widespread concern over Americans dying and getting sick from black-market THC vaping products, which only exist due to existing marijuana prohibition laws. Nothing similar has occurred with legal market vaping products. We would likely see something similarly dangerous happen with popular menthol-flavored cigarettes if the FDA goes through with its ban. By trying to save lives, the feds could open the door to other deaths. 

3. More Bans Mean More Law Enforcement Crackdowns and Over-Policing of Black Neighborhoods

Even the liberal-leaning American Civil Liberties Union warns that “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.” For a supposedly progressive administration, this makes little sense.

And the FDA ban probably wouldn’t even accomplish much. As Reason Foundation Director of Consumer Freedom Guy Bentley notes, similar bans in the European Union, Canada, and Massachusetts all had only small impacts on smoking reduction.

For more on this, read Bentley’s full analysis: 10 Reasons Why the FDA Should Not Ban Menthol Cigarettes

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