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‘Progressive’ Cigarette Restrictions Are Dumb and Destructive

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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You might be familiar with the saying “when you create more laws, you create more criminals.” This adage, along with several other reasons, is usually why it is an asinine idea to pass laws regulating vices – especially when it involves substances that people willingly choose to put in their bodies.

Such is the case with restrictions on cigarettes and vapes put into place in states like New York and California. Indeed, these laws are ostensibly designed to promote health, but they inevitably end up creating severe consequences.

Rich Marianos, a Georgetown University professor and veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) said these policies are “ill-planned from the get-go” during an interview with Breitbart News.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in January proposed a policy that would raise taxes on cigarettes by another dollar. The Empire State already has the highest taxes on cigarettes in the country. In California, voters upheld a law prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products in a ballot referendum held in December. Marianos referred to these measures as “bad policy with bad consequences that are going to erupt” because it forces law enforcement to focus on black market sales.

“California puts this ban in place — they don’t sit down with any of the regulators, any of the wholesalers or store owners, or any of the law enforcement, and everybody gets affected in the worst way,” Marianos said. “How do you put police reform in place in a state like California, when now they’re expected to go out there and enforce the sale of flavored tobacco, that was legal for the last 100 years? Okay, you want to drive a wedge between the community and the police, start having them enforce tobacco regulations.”

The professor pointed out that California has “the largest fentanyl problem in any state, and you’re enforcing cigarettes.”

He continued, explaining how New York raising taxes on cigarettes would lead to more black market smuggling, typically carried out by violent gangs.

From Breitbart:

According to a report published by the DC-based Tax Foundation think tank, there is a “strong positive relationship between cigarette smuggling and tax rates across U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The data also demonstrate that when states increase their cigarette taxes, smuggling rates increase, both in the form of increased purchases in neighboring states and through illicit international channels.”

The former ATF official said the raising of taxes would result in people – especially gang members – crossing state lines to meet the demand for tobacco. He indicated these people are “making more money than cocaine.”

He also criticized the “hypocrisy” of leftists states that have relaxed laws on narcotics while making legislation related to tobacco stricter.

The regulation of tobacco has been debated more publicly, especially when it comes to vaping and menthol cigarettes. Folks on the left argue for banning menthols and placing tighter regulations on vapes. In an op-ed for The Hill, author Jason Altmire called on the White House to push for regulations on flavored tobacco products – especially vapes. He notes that despite California’s ban, “flavored tobacco products are abundant on many store shelves” and that this is due to “confusing and conflicting guidance regarding what products are legal for retailers to sell, and a lack of enforcement of the ban.”

Altmire argued that while the Golden State’s ban is a “state and local concern,” President Joe Biden could deal with this by “directing the FDA to revise its guidance by deleting relevant footnotes; amend the guidance to prioritize enforcement to include ‘flavored disposable ENDS products’; and ensuring that the guidance applies to synthetic nicotine.”

The author pointed out that because of the flavored vape loophole, “children are now being targeted” in convenience stores that sell the product. It is already illegal to sell these items to minors.

Author Rita Joseph penned an op-ed for the New York Daily News in which she called on New York City’s government to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes. Her reason? Black people disproportionately favor these products.

“More than half of youth smokers smoke menthols. In New York, 89% of Black smokers smoke menthols, compared to just 32% of white smokers,” Joseph wrote. “And 90% of Black teenagers who smoke use them — the result of marketing targeted at our communities by Big Tobacco.”

The author pointed out that people are “more likely to become addicted” to menthols rather than regular cigarettes. “That is why Black people are 18% more likely to die from a disease related to smoking than white smokers. Today, generations of Black and Brown children have grown up to become hooked on a substance that is slowly killing them,” she explained.

It would be tremendously difficult to find a person who would argue that consuming tobacco products is beneficial to one’s health. In fact, most people disapprove of smoking cigarettes. Indeed, one of the reasons vaping has become so popular is that it has proven helpful to those wishing to quit cigarettes.

Nevertheless, it is not the government’s role to tell people what they are allowed to put into their bodies any more than it is to force people to take a vaccine. But even further, as Marianos asserted, these laws will create even more problems, same as the vast majority of measures designed to restrict the use of certain substances.

Progressive politicians are only emboldening violent criminals and gangs by making it more difficult for people to obtain these products. The same holds true of all narcotics – there is a reason why Mexican drug cartels have become so affluent and powerful. They are selling a product people want by breaking the law, which has led to untold levels of violence and tragedy.

Even further, these laws will promote far more negative interactions between police and the communities they serve. In the case of Eric Garner, selling loose cigarettes in New York City was the issue that sparked the confrontation in which an officer killed him by placing him in a chokehold. If there were no laws against selling loose cigarettes, Garner would likely still be alive today because law enforcement would have had no reason to approach him in the first place.

Unfortunately, regulating people’s personal behavior has become a popular proposition on both the left and right. The idea that the state should be empowered to tell people what they can and cannot consume under threat of violence is nearly universally accepted, which leads to ill-advised laws like the ones we see in California and New York.

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