March 27, 2018

PROHIBITION BLUES: FDA’s Low-Nicotine Cigarette Scheme Is an Invitation to Black Market Vendors.

Tobacco isn’t all that different a product than alcohol or marijuana, and the burdensome taxes and regulations under which the stuff is sold have already created healthy opportunities for smugglers and bootleggers. “Excessive tax rates on cigarettes approach de facto prohibition in some states, inducing black and gray market movement of tobacco products into high-tax states from low-tax states or foreign sources,” says Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation which, with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, tracks cigarette smuggling on an ongoing basis.

Under existing rules, an estimated 56.8 percent of cigarettes consumed in New York come from illegal sources. Enforcement efforts are as brutal in this black market as any other—Eric Garner was choked to death by New York City police officers in a confrontation rooted in his status as a dealer of black market cigarettes.

So, what’s the chance that the FDA’s latest brainstorm in substituting regulators’ preferences for those of consumers will end up any differently than previous experiences with alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco? Why would low-nicotine smokes find a less-resistant audience than 3.2 beer, or heavily regulated marijuana, or highly taxed cigarettes?

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s proposal to mandate low-nicotine cigarettes looks an awful lot like other well-intentioned but presumptuous efforts to substitute the will of regulators for the desires of the public—it’s Prohibition Lite.

While I remain against this kind of nannystatism, perhaps lower-nicotine cigarets would encourage more smokers to take up vaping — which provides a full dose nicotine and far fewer health risks.

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