Washington, DC is experiencing a crime surge compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the city is still struggling with high unemployment after its crushing economic lockdowns. But, apparently, the municipal government thinks the real pressing problem is what flavor tobacco products people are choosing to smoke.
“D.C. is officially outlawing the sale of flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes across the city,” local media outlet WTOP reports. Mayor Muriel Bowser officially signed the ban into law on Thursday. In particular, the mayor cited the popularity of menthol-flavored cigarettes among black people as a pressing reason for the ban.
“We know that Black residents are disproportionately affected by tobacco use, and flavored tobacco, including menthol, continues to have a particularly insidious effect on our community,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “Today, we take a hugely impactful step to reducing tobacco initiation and addiction in Washington, D.C.”
There are so many problems with this latest expansion of the nanny state that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
For one, this ban is fundamentally condescending and insulting. The mayor is essentially telling DC residents, particularly black ones, that she thinks they are too stupid and too incompetent to evaluate the relative risks of a product and make decisions for themselves. In reality, people know their own costs and benefits far better than detached government bureaucrats. There are indeed health risks associated with the use of tobacco products. But adults in a free society ought to be allowed to weigh those risks for themselves—not have the nanny state step in.
Also, banning such popular products is sure to lead to a black market for them, which will most likely prove far more dangerous than the current legal products. It’s much more probable that people will get sick or even die from black-market tobacco products than from ones professionally manufactured and sold. For example, the great “vaping” panic of recent years was related to reports of mysterious lung illness and death. Yet in almost all cases, these deaths were ultimately attributed not to legal products but to black market THC vaping products, which only exist due to marijuana prohibition laws.
It’s quite likely that similarly dysfunctional black market dynamics could emerge in Washington, DC after the mayor’s misguided move.
Another factor at play here is how new nanny state laws inevitably lead to more over-policing. Progressive lawmakers like Muriel Bowser claim to oppose police brutality and the oppression of disadvantaged communities by overzealous law enforcement. However, sending police officers into black communities to crack down on their choice of product flavor is a perfect recipe for more police interactions gone wrong.
Apparently all of these flaws are of little concern to Bowser and her colleagues. The DC government is taking a victory lap for this supposed public health accomplishment. But the true brunt of Mayor Bowser’s latest nanny state restriction will be borne by those who can least afford it.
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