NJ to be the first state to ban Menthol Cigarettes?

New Jersey could soon become the first state to outlaw the sale of menthol cigarettes, making the argument that the state must act to save lives where the federal government has not.

I spoke with Assemblyman Erik Peterson of Hunterdon County, who opposed the bill and didn’t see what the bill would really accomplish.

Opponents of this bill say that small businesses would lose more than a quarter of their annual sales if it becomes a law, but lawmakers argued on last week that a prohibition could reduce the prevalence of nicotine addiction and cancer in the state.

Peterson explains,” I think it would be detrimental because we are re not making it an illegal product, were just saying you cannot buy it here. Then, people will just go across the river and buy it.”

I asked a non-smoker, “The rebuttal is that if they ban it, people will just purchase elsewhere,” He replied, “In general, I’m against the governmental interference, but if they are looking for increasing health risks, maybe they can consider putting more restrictions on. Not necessarily a ban, but maybe a higher tax.”

Democratic Assemblyman and Chairman of the Health & Senior Service Committee Herb Conaway argues that menthol cigarettes should have been outlawed in 2009. He says, "Perhaps we can do what the federal government has failed to do. We're going to try to do what's right here in New Jersey." However, will that put an end to the problem?

Another resident of New Jersey admits, “I am a smoker myself, I’ve been trying to quit, its hard they’re very addictive and I think menthol is a little bit stronger than regular cigarettes so it might be a good idea.”

Asm. Petersen insists that “people that are going to smoke, are going to smoke either way and that their health impact is still going to be there.”

This conversation comes at a time where New Jersey debates legalizing marijuana. The proposed measure would amend the existing state law by adding menthol-flavored cigarettes to the state’s list of prohibited flavored cigarettes.

New Jersey collects around $670 million a year in cigarette taxes and $250 million of that comes from menthol cigarettes. According to Assemblyman Conaway, the revenue does not justify the cost in lives and healthcare.

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