Menthol in Cigarettes: Prohibition or Taxation?

As a tax man, I tend to react to proposals to prohibit something or other by saying . . . Slow Down.  Mentholated cigarettes are reportedly worse than the others, so the FDA is thinking about banning them.

Instead of the all or nothing approach that the FDA is authorized to take, how about the measured approach of taxation?  Make mentholated cigarettes cost a little more – just not enough to make bootlegging a big problem.  But a tax change would require Congress to act, and Jimmy Carter says (albeit in a different context) that the United States has “no functioning democracy.”  Anyway, people hate taxes these days.  So we’re stuck with all or nothing.  The only middle ground the FDA can stake out is to warn people that menthol is bad.  Taxes would be more effective at tipping the scales a little bit.


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