Ban That Empowers the Black Market

Mitchell Zeller
Director, Center for Tobacco Products
Document Control Center, Room 020J
9200 Corporate Boulevard
Rockville, MD. 20850

Dear Mr. Zeller:

On behalf of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), I am writing to you regarding the negative impact a ban on menthol cigarettes would have on public safety. FLEOA is the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit professional association exclusively representing federal law enforcement officers. FLEOA represents more than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from over 65 different agencies and is a charter member of the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Advisory Board and a member of the National Law Enforcement Steering Committee.

We have been carefully monitoring the FDA's analysis of menthol cigarettes. FLEOA, informed by the boots on the ground field knowledge of our members, believes banning menthol cigarettes would be a grave mistake because of the unintended consequences of a ban.

Many of our members – from agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Department of Homeland Security – would be on the front lines of an effort on the streets and in the ports and elsewhere to enforce a national prohibition of menthol cigarettes. Based on FLEOA member input, we know that a ban of menthol cigarettes would generate a sizable expansion of today's illegal tobacco trade. This expansion would have three deleterious effects.

First, the expansion of today's contraband market will contribute to an increase in violent crime due to competition among rival gangs that engage in trafficking and the sale of contraband. The current black market is very profitable for criminal enterprises, and many of them have shifted their efforts towards illegal cigarette trafficking due to the high profit margins and low sentencing exposure. Expanding this illicit market will create more criminal activity and adversely affect public safety.

Second, a ban would negatively affect our tax base because previously legal and taxable sales would go underground and be untaxed. It would be imprudent to concede the tax revenue, potentially billions of dollars, in a way that will enrich and encourage criminal organizations, both domestic and abroad.

And third, unregulated cigarettes are less safe than those being sold legally. Consumers do not know the ingredients in illegally manufactured cigarettes; nor do they know of the significant health risks posed by counterfeit cigarettes due to higher levels of toxic metals and other contaminants.

The Tobacco Control Act directed the FDA to consider information about the "countervailing effects" of a tobacco standard, such as "[t]he creation of a significant demand for contraband or other tobacco products...."

To our knowledge, the FDA has not queried federal law enforcement agencies about these issues as required by the law. Nor has FLEOA been contacted to offer its viewpoint. Any decision about menthol cigarettes should be grounded in an analysis of a ban through the eyes of federal law enforcement officers who deal with black market activity every day. We respectfully encourage you to consider those viewpoints.

Respectfully yours,

J. Adler
National President