It didn’t take America very long to figure out that alcohol prohibition was a bad idea. The Volstead Act, which took effect in 1920 to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, was repealed, via the Twenty-First Amendment, in 1933.

Prohibitionists being who and what they are, it took even less time for a new ban on a recreational product to be enacted. Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act a scant four years later, in 1937, in an act of legislative malfeasance so spectacular that it beggars even a cynic’s belief. Read this bit of history, if you dare, about the farces of pot prohibition.

It has taken a lot longer to wake up to the pointlessness of pot prohibition than it did regarding alcohol, but we are finally witnessing America crawl toward the decriminalization of a consensual activity.

Have they learned any lessons? Don’t make me laugh.

Even as pot is being re-legalized, we hear tell that the Biden administration is planning to ban menthol flavored tobacco products. Ostensibly, this is about public health, with some rationalization about menthol masking the bad flavors of cigarettes. What the ban supporters aren’t keen on talking about, however, is that menthol smokers are overwhelmingly black. When they do bother to take note of this reality, they point a finger of blame at tobacco companies for this preference, in order to deflect the obvious paternalism of this selective ban.

If tobacco is such a public health issue (it is, but that’s totally beside the point here), why don’t they simply ban it entirely?

You might be tempted to “aha!” me with “they learned their lessons about prohibition after all,” but to this I remind you of a lesson I’ve offered countless times on these pages: it’s always about Other Peoples Money (OPM). In the case of tobacco, that OPM is the great gobs of revenue various governments have extracted and continue to extract from tobacco companies and from smokers themselves. Lest we forget, New York City resident Eric Garner died because of nickel-and-dime tax evasion (he was selling “loosies,” individual cigarettes that could not be verified as having come from taxed cartons – and it is likely they weren’t taxed, given that 60% of New York City’s cigarettes are either smuggled from low tax states or counterfeits made in China. New York has the highest cigarette taxes in the nation).

And, lest we forget, it is encounters like those between police and Eric Garner, encounters born of low-level nuisance laws and the treatment of minority and poor communities as revenue centers, that a major producer of the friction that contributes to tragedies like that of George Floyd, and of course to the concomitant “Defund The Police” jingoism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Street cops aren’t the ones setting these policies, nor ar they choosing to be tax enforcers. They do as they’re told, and it’s the big Blue governments that are doing most of the telling when it comes to OPM.

That the government is aware of this problem – and of the fact that it is the black community will be most affected – is reflected in its promise not to target black smokers with this menthol ban.

What will they do about the inevitable underground economy that will emerge from this ban? Do they really think that the ban will simply lead to blacks ceasing to smoke? Or that they will switch to unflavored cigarettes?

Some will, for sure, but the counterfeit cigarette market produces 450 billion cancer sticks a year already. Clearly, the infrastructure is already there to satisfy a market want in the face of prohibition, and enforcement will inevitably trickle down to more bad cop-on-black encounters, no matter what the FDA says:

China makes enough counterfeit cigarettes to supply every U.S. smoker with 460 packs a year.

And, rest assured, those Chinese counterfeiters aren’t as concerned about quality control as domestic producers are.

Counterfeit cigarettes not only present a higher risk of cancer, but they have also been found to contain levels of lead, arsenic, and mercury, as well as many more harmful substances. Additionally, they are statistically more likely than legal cigarettes to lead to a decrease in mental and physical health, because there are no regulations on how they are made or what they are made with.

Herein we witness a parallel with the opioid epidemic. A recent study refuted the long-assumed correlation between pain pill prescriptions and overdoses, confirming what those who actually work on the streets know: it’s the illegal drugs that overdose and kill people, because those users don’t know what they’re buying. Push a product like menthol tobacco underground, and we may very well increase the damage to people’s health rather than reducing it.

Beyond this hard reality, there is the very questionable messaging of this ban. Given that the menthol market is largely black, doesn’t it scream of condescending paternalism toward a community we are constantly being told is being repressed and denied the liberties the rest of society enjoys?

Or is there some more subtle thought going on here?

Are these Best-and-Brightest pondering that banning menthol while legalizing pot will shift the black communities preferences? Pot prohibition was born of racism – and there are insinuations that liquor and beer companies, newly back on the market after Prohibition was repealed, lobbied to have this alternate recreational substance removed from the marketplace. And, indeed, even nowadays, lobbyists from the beverage industry opposed legalization. As have police and prison guard unions (fewer blacks in jail for pot beefs = fewer jobs), as well as other seekers of OPM.

Public policy often merges OPM with votes, but sometimes the two run cross-purposes. I don’t see that this menthol prohibition produces any OPM windfall for the Democrats from the lobbies, but it does offer up a giant virtue signal for the Democrats’ most essential constituency: the rich white liberal-guilt types who are obsessed with managing everyone else’s life, and it is they who may be expected to fund the election coffers.

That they’re targeting a product widely used by the black community reeks of the paternalistic condescension that is their hallmark. That the outcome is far more likely to be harmful, in both public health and race relations, is apparently of little import.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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