NATO Submits Comments to Chicago Health Board on Flavored Tobacco Products

Thomas A. Briant, NATO Executive Director

In response to a directive issued by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Board of Health has scheduled four town hall meetings this month to obtain the public’s input on the flavored tobacco products, including menthol-flavored cigarettes. Two of the town hall meetings have already been held with a third scheduled for September 17 and the final town hall meeting to take place on September 19.

The information obtained from the town hall meetings will then be used by the Chicago Board of Health to make potential policy recommendations to Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago City Council regarding flavored tobacco products. These policy recommendations will focus on “curbing the use” of flavored tobacco products. 

In its comments filed with the Chicago Board of Health, NATO argued that if a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol flavored cigarettes, were to be proposed, such a ban would cause irreparable financial harm to Chicago retailers because they sell many different kinds and brands of legal flavored tobacco products. Also, NATO reminded the board of health that Illinois law already makes it illegal for retailers to sell any kind of tobacco products, including flavored tobacco products, to an individual under the age of 18.  Such a ban will only cause adults to travel to nearby cities and towns outside of Chicago to purchase their preferred flavored tobacco products. 

NATO also educated the board of health about the combined federal, state, county and local cigarette tax rate of $6.67 per pack for cigarettes sold in the City of Chicago, which has resulted in a rampant black market for cigarettes. With a black market in cigarettes now flourishing in Chicago, a recommendation to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, will further expand the scope of the black market to include these other flavored products. An expansion of the black market would not serve to protect the public health, which is the underlying mission of the Chicago Board of Health.

Finally, NATO informed the Chicago Board of Health that it is important to take notice of the Food and Drug Administration’s report issued in July of this year titled “Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Non-Menthol Cigarettes” which concluded that “[f]rom the available studies, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that menthol in cigarettes is not associated with an increase in disease risk to the user compared to non-menthol cigarette smokers.”

In short, NATO concluded that by singling out flavored tobacco products, in particular menthol cigarettes that are not associated with an increase in disease risk, a recommendation by the Chicago Board of Health to ban flavored tobacco products would make an existing illicit market in contraband tobacco products worse and undermine public health objectives.