Banning menthol cigarettes is a bad decision

In November 2017, your newspaper published an editorial with a prescient statement: “The best argument for legalizing marijuana is that prohibition hasn’t worked, just as it hasn’t worked for alcohol. Legalization is perhaps the best solution.

Unfortunately, you are now actively encouraging a giant step backwards in a recent op-ed endorsing the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s plan for a nationwide ban on menthol cigarettes. You said it right the first time: prohibition does not work. The legal regulations do.

A complete ban on menthol flavored tobacco products will not prevent their sale. This will drive many purchases to illicit markets where sellers do not care about purchase age laws and other efforts to prevent young people from obtaining these products. This could actually increase access to these products at a time when youth smoking rates are at an all-time low.

Your editorial admits that the FDA plan only calls for enforcement against the manufacturing and retail industry, not individual use or possession. Criminals, street gangs and other malicious actors will exploit this loophole to create a thriving, violent and lucrative underground market. Just remember the lessons we learned with marijuana.

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We fully agree with the goal of reducing smoking and ensuring that cigarettes do not fall into the hands of our young people. Our retail members work hard to take steps to ensure that their clerks comply with the laws prohibiting selling to young people. Many of them voluntarily participate in training programs such as We Card which help team members understand age restriction laws and warn young minors that they will not be sold illegally.

The FDA plan is also a terrible deal for Illinois taxpayers. Illinois increased its cigarette taxes from $1 to $2.98 per pack in 2019 to pay for building projects, including schools, universities and colleges. The flavored tobacco market accounts for 35% of in-store cigarette sales. A sudden ban would cost Illinois an almost equal amount in sales tax revenue and create hardship for our schools and taxpayers.

Regulation is key, and Congress recently took a big step in raising the tobacco purchase age to a national standard of 21. But when bureaucrats arbitrarily choose which products should remain legal, picking winners and losers, regulation itself gets a bad rap.

This proposal, despite your support, is bad for Illinois and our nation. It will cost taxpayers and create a new illicit market – right after a market closes.

Josh Sharp, General Manager, Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, Springfield

We need public election funding

That’s the invisible elephant in the room: the millions of dollars in campaign contributions given mostly to Republicans by gun interests to block gun safety.

Sixteen of the 50 Republican senators have received over $1 million in career funding from the National Rifle Association. Fifteen received more than $100,000. All but one received thousands of dollars.

It’s the same with drug companies giving millions mostly to Republicans to keep Medicare from negotiating drug prices; with insurance companies donating to block the expansion of Medicare to include hearing, vision and dental care; with corporations and the wealthy giving to get lower taxes; with fossil fuel companies donating to block strong action on climate change.

It’s mostly Republicans who oppose low-cost child care and free preschools and community schools for fear that their big donors will have to pay higher taxes.

Surprisingly, most Republicans oppose campaign finance reform. The mighty force of big money often triumphs in our so-called democracy.

It is a cry for the public financing of electoral campaigns.

Richard Barsanti, Western Springs

The casino concert hall is not necessary

The River West Casino includes plans for a 3,000-seat concert hall. Why ?

Consider the crush as a capacity audience comes out in an area with very little parking and served by only two bus lines, rapid transit is miles away.

Such a place is not necessary. The Auditorium Theater is more often dark than it is open; ditto for the Chicago Theatre. The Arie Crown is supposed to be mothballed. Then we have the Congress Theater and maybe, sometimes, the Uptown. None of these need additional competition.

Hugh Spencer, Campaign