A ban on menthol in cigarettes might be an obvious way to curb kiddie smoking, but a new survey of anti-smoking regulations in Canada finds that getting tough only results in a black market of smokes that are cheaper and easier for kids to get.
As the Food and Drug Administration considers a ban on menthol, cigarette makers like Lorillard, which produces Newport, have been pushing back. At a meeting today of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which has until March to advise the FDA on a regulatory path, the report they presented was a reminder that those who want to smoke will find a way to do it.
The survey from the research firm Compass Lexecon found that a ban would create a sizeable black market for menthol cigarettes, boost organized crime, increase youth access and have little impact on smoking rates. The key summary paragraph: "Restrictions placed on legal menthol sales would primarily divert current sales of menthol cigarettes to non-menthol cigarette alternatives and to black market menthol cigarettes. Further, our best estimate is that the black market that will emerge will be substantial. In terms of unit sales, our estimate is that black market menthol sales will be over 70 percent of current volumes, and that aggregate revenues will approximately be close to current sales levels. Finally, our analysis suggests that there could be many unintended consequences, ranging from the more obvious outcomes, such as significant growth in organized crime activity, to other types of effects, such as greater youth access to cigarettes (especially in urban areas) and large increases in the sales of low-cost counterfeit cigarettes."
Groups like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids believe a ban will curb youth smoking, but Bill Wilson, the president of Americans for Limited Government, says a ban will only lead to a black market that makes cigarettes cheaper and easier to get. "This is a classic case of government interference leading to devastating outcomes. Since the charge to ban menthol cigarettes is led by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, it may be time for them to change their name to the Campaign for Tobacco Access for Kids," he says.
What's happened in Canada, after it significantly raised taxes, is that a huge black market opened with cartons of cigarettes being stuffed in plastic bags for sale about a quarter of the retail price. Kids are able to buy them without having to prove their age. The industry survey and Powerpoint, provided to Whispers, found that the Canadian provinces that suffered the greatest increase in contraband sales are also those that saw teen smoking rates jump.