New Jersey considers ban on menthol cigarettes

Sponsor of measure says menthol cigarettes are heavily marketed in black communities, targeting African-American men.

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

New Jersey could become the first state to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes.

The cooling effect of menthol allows smokers to inhale more toxic substances that cause health problems, said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who’s also a medical doctor.

“Black males, in particular, are probably as a group the most affected by lung cancer related to smoking,” he said. “Menthol cigarettes have been heavily advertised in black communities, which, in my view, has led to this very high prevalency rate among black males.”

Black men are about 20 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, according to the American Cancer Society.

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Menthol cigarettes account for 35 to 40 percent of all cigarette sales for New Jersey Food Council member retailers, and the proposed ban would represent a significant revenue loss, according to Mary Ellen Peppard of the council.

“Tens of millions of dollars per member,” she said. “One member reports approximately $80 million in lost revenue is their estimate.”

But Conaway said the benefits would outweigh any revenue loss.

“Less health care costs being spent by the government,” he said during a hearing on the measure. “And what’s the value of a life that’s preserved? What’s the value of a life that can now be extended?”

The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee advanced the bill in a 7-3 vote.

Assemblyman Erik Peterson was one of the Republicans on the committee who voted against the ban.

“New Jersey is not a big state geographically. So if Pennsylvania doesn’t do the same thing — or New York or Delaware — people travel to those states on a regular basis, they could purchase them there or bring them back,” said Peterson, R-Hunterdon.

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