Menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products are displayed at a store in San Francisco on May 17, 2018. Credit: Jeff Chiu / AP

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The federal government has been toying with banning menthol cigarettes for more than a year now. They say that somehow a minty flavor in a cigarette is discriminatory (I still have yet to figure that one out). Whatever the reason, I think this ban will without question achieve two things: It will take legal business away from small businesses in rural Maine, and it will give that business to unscrupulous black-market sellers, including the cartels who are helping fuel the opioid and fentanyl crisis in this county.

Regardless of someone’s opinion on smoking, I think everybody would agree that the sale of tobacco should be controlled and tobacco products should be kept out of the hands of children. Right now, menthol cigarettes are behind a counter in a store with an employee who is checking the IDs. The store owner is sending the tax dollars to the state and federal government and the customer can be sure that the cigarettes have been quality controlled. Existing regulations have helped lower smoking rates, including menthol smoking, especially with teens.

Those controls are out the window with a menthol ban, and it could open the door for bad actors like Mexican drug cartels to fill the vacuum. A group of U.S. senators expressed concern “that potential FDA actions to prohibit the sale of popular tobacco products may expand black market opportunities for [transnational criminal organizations], from Mexico or otherwise, to sell illegal tobacco products in the U.S.”

What is worse, is that the boost to illegal operator budgets could come at the expense of Maine businesses who are following the rules and who are diligent in making sure that tobacco products stay out of kids’ hands. We also, in Maine, believe in personal freedom, and I think many folks in our state will not appreciate the federal government dictating their choice in tobacco.

As opposed to creating potential new revenue streams for the cartels, the federal government should focus its tobacco prevention efforts on what is already working: education and cessation programs at the state level. I think making these products illegal is going to create a whole new problem, a whole new market for black market retailers and will make a criminal out of folks who just wanted to smoke a menthol cigarette.

Christine Peters

Chief operating officer

Maine Smoke Shop

Old Town