Energy Marketers of America Speaks Out Against Menthol Cigarette Ban

Rule would negatively impact economy, small businesses, group says
Menthol cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Energy Marketers of America (EMA), which represents 47 regional energy marketing and convenience-store trade associations in the United States, is calling on President Joe Biden to abandon his administration’s proposed menthol cigarette ban.

The Food and Drug Administration’s rules that would ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are in the final stages of review. The agency and proponents have said the regulations would help drive down preventable deaths from tobacco use and help prevent youth use, but the EMA claimed the FDA is already failing to enforce the tobacco market in the U.S.—and this will make illicit tobacco trafficking worse.

The coalition of associations sent a letter Tuesday to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting the White House reject any rule that would impose a federal ban on menthol cigarettes. The OMB still must complete its review of the rule before the FDA publishes it. It would be at least a year after that until the rule takes effect.

In the letter, the EMA said a federal ban would negatively impact the economy, public health and those relying on small businesses.

“There is no scientific evidence to support a nationwide public health policy that would treat menthol cigarettes differently than other cigarettes,” the associations said. “Nonetheless, the controversial policy proposal, advanced by special interest groups that have threatened the federal government with litigation, will create the largest prohibition of a legal adult product in modern history. As menthol cigarettes are the product of choice for smokers in communities of color, the policy will disproportionately impact those communities.”

Historically, the tobacco industry has targeted its marketing of menthol to certain populations, including young people, women and Black people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

But tobacco bans and taxes don’t work, the EMA said. Enlighted public health policy supports harm reduction as a strategy, it said, pointing to countries like the United Kingdom that have embraced less-harmful alternatives to smoking instead of resorting to total prohibition.

“Banning the use of menthol in cigarettes would have a cascading effect on companies who supply fuel to independently owned and operated small business gas stations,”Rob Underwood, EMA president, said. “Retailers will likely be unable to pay for their next load of fuel and pay for [electric vehicle] charging equipment due to the potential major revenue loss from a menthol flavor ban. Many small businesses will likely go out of business given the magnitude of this proposed rulemaking.”

Organizations across the country signed the report.

“As a border state, we see the harmful effects of misguided bans and taxes every day as criminals traffic illegal products, counterfeit goods and other contraband across our border to exploit foolish regulation,” said Amanda Gray, executive director of the Arizona Petroleum Marketers Association (APMA). “A ban on menthol cigarettes is a billion-dollar gift to Mexican cartels. We can’t stand by and let this happen.”

Traci Nelson, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association (OMEGA), weighed in on the impact on small businesses.

“At a time when small businesses continue to struggle amidst the headwinds of inflation and a flagging economy, the last thing the retailers of West Virginia need is policy that will take revenue out of our stores and give it to the criminal market,” Nelson said. “We deserve more than this from our elected officials, but they continue to kick us while we’re down.”

Energy Marketers of America was known as the Petroleum Marketers Association of America before it changed its name in October 2020. Energy marketers represented by EMA own and operate about 60,000 retail motor fuel stations nationwide, supply fuels to an additional 40,000 gas stations and heating fuel to more than 5 million homes and businesses.

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