Ban on menthol cigarettes is the wrong move

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A complete ban on menthol-flavored tobacco products will not prevent their sale. It will drive many purchases to illicit markets, the head of the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association writes.

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In November 2017, your newspaper ran an editorial with a prescient statement: “The best argument for legalizing marijuana is that prohibition has not worked, just as it did not work for alcohol. Legalization may be the better way.”

Regrettably, you now are actively cheerleading for a giant step backwards in a recent editorial endorsing the federal Food and Drug Administration’s plan for a national prohibition on menthol cigarettes. You said it right the first time: prohibition does not work. Legal regulation does.

A complete ban on menthol-flavored tobacco products will not prevent their sale. It will drive many purchases to illicit markets where sellers don’t care about age-of-purchase laws and other efforts to prevent youth from getting these products. This could actually increase access to these products at a time when youth smoking rates are at an all-time low.

Your editorial admits the FDA’s plan calls only for enforcement against the manufacturing and retail industry, not on individual use or possession. Criminals, street gangs and other bad actors will exploit this loophole to create a thriving, violent and lucrative underground market. Just remember the lessons we learned with marijuana.

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We agree wholeheartedly with the goal of reducing smoking and working to keep cigarettes out of the hands of our youth. Our retail members work hard to take steps that ensure their clerks follow laws prohibiting youth sales. Many of them participate voluntarily in training programs such as We Card that help team members understand the age restriction laws and put underage youth on notice they will not be sold the products illegally.

The FDA’s plan is also a terrible deal for Illinois taxpayers. Illinois raised its cigarette taxes by $1 to $2.98-per-pack in 2019 to pay for construction projects, including schools, universities and colleges. The flavored tobacco market represents 35 percent of in-store cigarette sales. A sudden ban would cost Illinois a nearly equal amount in sales tax revenue and create hardships for our schools and taxpayers.

Regulation is critical, and Congress recently took a big step forward by raising the tobacco purchasing age to a national standard of 21. But when bureaucrats arbitrarily choose which products should remain legal, picking winners and losers, regulation itself gets a bad name.

This proposal, despite your support, is wrong for Illinois and our nation. It will cost taxpayers and create a new illicit market — fresh on the heels of putting one out of business.

Josh Sharp, chief executive officer, Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, Springfield

We need public funding of elections

It’s the invisible elephant in the room: the millions of dollars of campaign contributions given mostly to Republicans by gun interests to block gun safety.

Sixteen of the 50 Republican senators received over $1 million in career National Rifle Association funding. Fifteen received over $100,000. All but one of the rest received thousands of dollars.

It’s the same with pharmaceutical companies giving millions mostly to Republicans to block Medicare from negotiating drug prices; with insurance companies giving to block Medicare expansion to include hearing, eye and dental care; with corporations and the wealthy giving to get lower taxes; with fossil fuel companies giving to block strong action against climate change.

It’s mostly Republicans who oppose reduced-cost child care and free preschool and community college, for fear their big donors might have to pay higher taxes.

Surprise, mostly Republicans oppose campaign finance reform. The powerful force of big money frequently triumphs in our supposed democracy.

It’s a scream for public funding of election campaigns.

Richard Barsanti, Western Springs

Casino’s music venue isn’t needed

The River West casino includes plans for a 3,000-seat music venue. Why?

Consider the crush as a capacity audience exits into an area with very little parking and served by only two bus lines, Rapid transit is miles away.

Such a venue is not needed. The Auditorium Theater is dark more often than it is open; ditto for the Chicago Theatre. The Arie Crown is supposed to be mothballed. Then we have the Congress Theatre and maybe, sometime, the Uptown. None of these need added competition.

Hugh Spencer, Countryside

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June 2, 2022 at 01:43PM

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