Biden’s menthol cigarette prohibition is so obviously stupid and wrong it boggles the mind

Joe Biden sunglasses getty
President Joe Biden speaks on the North Lawn of the White House on April 27, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Biden claimed to regret how his drug warrior legacy led to mass incarceration.
  • But the prohibition will lead to harsher policing in Black communities.
  • It’s like the president hasn’t learned a thing from the failed and evil War on Drugs.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Joe Biden clearly hasn’t learned a thing from the failed and immoral War on Drugs – a disaster that he played a huge part in creating.

The president on Thursday ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes, a plan first reported on Wednesday by the Washington Post. Since it’s a regulatory change, Congress has no say in the matter.

Anti-smoking advocates have lobbied for the ban for years, arguing correctly that the tobacco industry has targeted menthol sales at young people and Black communities.

Let’s be clear: Big Tobacco is a callous, lying cabal that exists to profit off addicting people to a deadly product. But cigarettes aren’t going to be made illegal overnight, just a certain flavor of cigarettes.

The ban will make menthol a prized commodity, a sought-after product whose artificial scarcity will inevitably drive up its price on non-legal markets.

A flavor will now be a crime, making criminals out of people who want some mint flavoring with their toxic tar.

This idea isn’t just dumb and wholly unnecessary – it’s plainly destructive to the communities it’s supposed to be helping.

Biden’s sorry (but not sorry) about being a prohibitionist

Throughout the 2020 Democratic primary, Biden was badgered by his rivals into apologizing for authoring several of the Drug War’s most punitive and socially destructive laws.

Those laws contributed to mass incarceration, the militarization of police, black markets controlled by violent criminals, as well as millions of broken homes and shattered lives.

Biden thought his heart was in the right place: Drugs are bad, m’kay.

But the Biden-backed Drug War was just a hyper-violent and hyper-expensive reboot of alcohol Prohibition – a colossal failure, so corrupting of society at almost every level, that Congress amended the Constitution to get rid of it.

As a candidate, Biden sheepishly claimed to have evolved from the days when he was boasting of legislation that he said did “everything but hang people for jaywalking.” As the Democratic nominee, Biden promised to work on decriminalizing marijuana and removing it from the DEA’s list of Schedule I controlled substances.

Biden’s now been in the White House for more than three months, and Vice President Kamala Harris says the administration is simply too busy to fulfill its promise..

But apparently Biden isn’t too busy to use his power to ban menthol cigarettes.

This demonstrates either Biden’s promise was hollow, or that he’s too stuck in his drug warrior ways to see how it’s a certainty that criminalizing a popular product in the Black community is going to be an abject disaster of human carnage.

Eric Garner protest
People participate in a protest to mark the five year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner during a confrontation with a police officer in the borough of Staten Island on July 17, 2019 in New York City.

The madness of prohibition

Albert Einstein almost certainly didn’t say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But it’s still a good line.

Biden enacting a prohibition that instantly creates a black market and room for more unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounters with police, should be seen as the plainly dumb move that it is.

The “unintended consequences” cannot be called “unforeseen.” We can see them plain as day.

We’ve done prohibition before, several times. To expect a different result – the eradication of the banned product without unneeded violence and imprisonment – meets Einstein’s apocryphal definition of insanity.

And there’s almost no doubt the weight of this ban will fall predominantly on the Black community. One need only look at the police killing of Eric Garner, who in 2014 was the target of an NYPD crackdown on loose cigarette sales. That crackdown was deemed necessary because illicit loosie sales don’t collect New York’s high tobacco taxes – which were enacted, in part, to curb smoking.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is under no illusions about what the menthol ban means.

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and members of Congress, the ACLU noted that about 80% of Black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, and warned the ban “will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color,” lead to “constitutional policing,” and “prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction.”

While acknowledging that it would be best if no one smoked, the ACLU also seemed to question the necessity of the menthol ban, citing government data showing “cigarette use is down to 2.3% from 13% in 2002” and that among underage African-Americans it’s down to 1.1%.

There is simply no ethical or scientific reason for Biden to impose a move as severe as a total ban on menthol cigarettes.

Prohibition isn’t just ineffective, it’s wrong. And its architects and adherents almost always regret it eventually.

Biden once prided himself on being more of a Drug War and Law and Order hardass than Ronald Reagan. If his mea culpas from the 2020 primary were sincere, he’d be keeping his promises to wind down the war on marijuana, not starting the war on menthols.

When menthol cigarette crackdowns inevitably come to Black communities, Biden shouldn’t be allowed to claim he couldn’t have possibly foreseen the unintended consequences.

The president should know better about prohibition, but he doesn’t.

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Six people were killed by police in the 24 hours after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder

Police officers on October 27, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder on Tuesday.
  • In the 24 hours afterward, police across America fatally shot six people.
  • Chauvin was convicted over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the 24 hours after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder, at least six people died at the hands of police, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020. Video from his arrest showed Chauvin kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.

In the day that followed, police across America killed six people.

The circumstances of the six incidents varied and some of the cases garnered national attention, including the death of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl in Columbus.

Bryant was shot and killed after police responded to a call about an attempted stabbing.

In Worcester, Massachusetts, Phet Gouvonvong, 31, called 911 and said he had a bomb when police responded and Gouvonvong moved towards police, he was shot and died at the scene, the Telegram & Gazette.

Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed as deputies tried to serve an arrest warrant in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

The identities of the two men killed in San Antonio are unknown. One was killed during an altercation on a bus where police said he had a gun, but it’s unclear if he ever fired it, KENS 5 reported. The second was killed after he began shooting at officers who were responding to a call that someone had killed a person working in a shed outside the caller’s home, the AP reported.

In Escondido, California, a white man was killed after police said he charged at officers with a 2-foot metal pole, KTLA reported. The victim was known to law enforcement and was homeless and mentally ill.

It’s not clear if any officers in these fatal shootings will face legal charges like Chauvin, who was convicted mainly because of a video that showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

“We are in a moment of reckoning,” Rachael Rollins, district attorney for Boston and surrounding communities told the AP.

“If we can be strategic and come together,” she said, “we can make profound changes, profound.”

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The police in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio serve as a national reminder: police aren’t afraid to abuse their power

Ma'Khia Bryant shooting Columbus
Protesters in Portland hold a sign to honor Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black girl who was fatally shot by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio.

  • Ma’khia Bryant was killed by Columbus, Ohio police seconds after they responded to her call for help.
  • The encounter is part of a pattern of killings that ranks Columbus among the worst cities for police violence in the country.
  • CPD serves as a national reminder: police aren’t making mistakes when they kill – it’s what they’re trained to do.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Students at The Ohio State University have a reputation for flipping cars over.

When the football team loses against top-ranked opponents, cars will be flipped over on campus. Even when the football team wins against top-ranked opponents, cars are liable to be flipped over. Block parties like “Chitt Fest” are attended by thousands of wasted students and can lead to, you guessed it, cars being flipped over.

Chitt Fests – named after Chittenden Avenue, where I lived in 2013 – are usually rowdy, but not extensive-property-damage rowdy. This year’s rager, though, was less of a party and more of a riot.

One student found her 2016 Chevy Cruz being flipped over in real time. Others reported beer bottles being thrown through the windows of houses and apartments, as well as electric scooters being thrown into trees. In total, seven cars were flipped over, leading some to ask: where the hell were the police?

Columbus, Ohio, where The Ohio State University is located, is a great city. It’s ranked fifth in the world when it comes to quality of life, and its broad acceptance of immigrants brought my parents there in the early 1990s. Although I’ve been living in New York City for six years, Columbus still feels like my home.

But operating menacingly beneath these accolades is the city’s haunting law enforcement, which will remain a stain on Columbus’ image for the foreseeable future. The police in Columbus, Ohio are a great example of the worst kind of policing, and its behavior towards those it’s meant to protect should serve as a national reminder: the police have the power, and they’re not afraid to abuse it.

Fatal attraction

An OSU student told the Columbus Dispatch that when she called 9-1-1 on the night of this year’s Chitt Fest, the operator told her that police “have other things to worry about.” Those “other things” contribute to the Columbus Police Department’s absolutely abysmal reputation with its community and a record of violence against citizens that is one of the worst in the country.

The latest and most notorious example of this rot came on Tuesday, when 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant called Columbus police because she was worried about her safety. When police arrived, they witnessed a fight between Ma’khia and two other girls. Ma’khia had a knife in her hand.

It’s at this point in the timeline of the altercation that we have to understand the way police are trained. Considering her age, police could have physically restrained Ma’khia, who was, based on the fact that she was the one who called them, presumably defending herself. By my own review of the body cam footage, police outnumbered Ma’khia four to one, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that they could have simply overpowered her.

But let’s say physical restraint is out of the question. Another option would be to use a taser, as former Brooklyn Center cop Kim Potter is alleged to have intended before she shot and killed Daunte Wright just last week.

Instead, an officer responded to what he saw by immediately shooting and killing Ma’khia within seconds of his arrival. Reasonable people may think this was a mistake, but actually, it’s exactly how he was trained to respond.

A former police officer wrote in the Atlantic that officer training emphasizes the severity of the risks to their lives. Cadets are shown horrifying videos of police officers being beaten or killed, and are taught that the risk of making a “mistake” – like killing Ma’khia instead of subduing her – is far less than the risk of neutralizing a threat, no matter how much of a threat there actually is.

This type of training is why, on December 4, 2020, Franklin County sheriff’s deputy Jason Meade shot and killed 23-year-old Casey Goodman, who, according to his family, was holding a sandwich in one hand and a face mask in the other.

It’s also why, a couple of weeks later, Columbus police officer Adam Coy shot and killed Andre Hill, a 47-year-old Black man, within seconds of their encounter. On December 22, 2020, Officer Coy responded to a call about a man who committed the unconscionable crime of sitting in his car for a while. Coy approached Hill, who had a phone in his hand, and killed him on sight.

Desperate for change

Police in Columbus and the surrounding Franklin County are ranked 18th out of the 100 most populous counties in the nation based on the rate of fatal law enforcement encounters. Since 2015, there have been at least 39 police killings in Franklin County. Compared to other police departments, Columbus police have killed the third-highest amount of children since 2013, behind only Chicago and Houston.

And of course, Black people in Columbus are particularly affected. A 2019 study commissioned by the city showed “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents,” citing that Black people were half of the cases of “use of force” incidents despite only making up 28% of the city’s population.

After Ma’khia Bryant was gunned down, a bystander in the body cam video can be heard rightfully saying “Are you serious? She’s a f—— kid, man!” Her entire life up to that point, and everything that would have followed, was reduced to an encounter that lasted just seconds, thanks to a system that values its officers’ lives more than those they’re supposed to protect and serve. This system doesn’t just teach officers that everyone is a threat, it also perpetuates a culture where this behavior is glorified.

This is made clear by the Columbus Police Department’s callous behavior in the last few weeks. Officers who responded to the Ma’khia Bryant scene were heard chanting “Blue Lives Matter” to bystanders. And on the heels of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests throughout Columbus, a CPD helicopter was caught on radar spelling out “CPD” – for Columbus Police Department – in the skies above Columbus.

Few lives are made better by this brand of policing. Few lives are made safer. Otherwise burgeoning cities are weighed down by bad-faith policing tactics, drastically slowing a town’s march towards progress.

The police are on top, and they aren’t afraid to showcase it. Until some form of reckoning shows up on the doorsteps of my treasured hometown, its residents have to live in fear.

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