Ex-law enforcement officials warn Biden’s menthol cigarette ban could ‘create a vacuum’ for Mexican cartels

The Biden administration’s banning of menthol cigarettes will open up the door to several problems, including providing a massive space for Mexican cartels to move in and sell them on the U.S. black market, former law enforcement officials told Fox News Digital. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in April 2022. At the time, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the action would protect children and benefit adult smokers. 

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Becerra said. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.” 

In late October, the FDA’s director of the Center for Tobacco Products, Brian King, told Fox News Digital the proposed rules are in the “final step of review for regulatory documents” after making their way to the White House Office of Management and Budget. 

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Now, ex-law enforcement officials, who can speak more freely on issues than those currently serving, sounded the alarm to Fox News Digital over what they say are several significant problems that can arise, including creating a vacuum for cartels. One common theme repeated by those interviewed is that the Biden administration failed to bring law enforcement to the table for their advice during the process.

“This is essentially a prohibition, and we know what happens when you remove a current market,” Jorge Colina, former City of Miami chief of police, told Fox News Digital. “That means organized crime and/or cartels move in.”

Colina called it an “unfunded mandate” that will “create a vacuum that is going to be ripe for the Chinese or the Mexicans or the cartels to move in and take advantage of what’s going to be a multi-billion dollar industry.”

“As a former chief of police, I’ve heard many people talk about ways to minimize police public contact,” he added. “‘Hey, maybe you shouldn’t enforce traffic of offenses. Or maybe more things should be a civil citation instead of an arrest,’ to avoid a deteriorating relationship between the police and the communities they serve. Then they turn around, and they do things like this.”

Colina said he doesn’t believe the administration considered various elements of the ban and considered all of the consequences and unintended consequences.

“Law enforcement should have been allowed at the table to talk about this,” he said. 

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Pete Forcelli, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) special agent who retired as a deputy assistant director, echoed Colina’s concerns with cartels. 

“With any sort of ban, you open up opportunities for organized crime, for drug cartels, and truthfully – given the nature of what’s going on now – even folks funding terrorist activities in the Middle East to profit from that black market that you’re then going to create,” Forcelli told Fox News Digital.

“To me, it makes no sense why the Biden administration wouldn’t have consulted with law enforcement before opening these opportunities – to not just the cartels and organized criminal groups and gangs that operate in the U.S. – but potentially to terror organizations to profit from the black markets that would be opened up by creating a ban of this nature,” Forcelli said.

Pat Montuore, a retired police chief and the founder and CEO of the Police Unity Tour, said the ban could put law enforcement in harsh and dangerous situations.

“As a police chief, and someone who had to lead officers on policy procedures – right from wrong – this is another un-federally funded program that puts us in a situation to where we do not train officers specific to a law, the understanding of a law, where there are so many interpretations and confusing things,” Montoure told Fox News Digital. “Such as the legalization of marijuana versus someone standing next to you with a menthol cigarette is now smoking something they shouldn’t and is now illegal.”

“It also creates markets that are not legal, creating a market to where you not only have the person smoking it, but you have a vendor selling something, and where did they get it from and how did they do that?” Montoure added.

“You put yourself in positions that you can’t win, and you also put our officers in harm’s way.”

Like the others, he stressed the administration should have consulted with law enforcement officials during the process.

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Several politicians, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have spoken out against the ban for some time. Cotton said the Biden administration’s policies are riddled with contradictions and misplaced priorities.

“This administration would make criminals of law-abiding citizens while granting actual felons early release and encouraging illicit drug use,” Cotton previously told Fox News Digital. “No wonder Americans have lost faith in an administration that’s less interested in public safety than targeting political enemies.”

Groups have also started hitting the Biden administration over the proposed ban and how it could hurt small businesses. The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association has launched a campaign to urge candidates to oppose it and began advertising in New Hampshire

“What has gone up thanks to Massachusetts’ ban on menthol cigarettes is the size of the state’s illicit market,” the campaign’s website states. “A recent report by the Massachusetts Illegal Tobacco Task Force found that contraband cigarette seizures skyrocketed from just 5,377 in 2021 to 18,483 in 2022.”

“Illicit crime and the influx of dangerous narcotics go hand-in-hand,” it continues. “New Hampshire is no stranger to the fentanyl crisis. Recently, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Cassidy have been sounding the alarm on the connection between the Mexican cartels at the heart of the fentanyl crisis who are now looking ‘to exploit black market opportunities’ if the federal menthol ban goes into effect.”

Additionally, conservative advocacy group Building Americas Future is launching a six-figure ad buy across multiple 2024 swing states and congressional districts over the proposed menthol cigarette ban.

The White House did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the concerns raised by the former law enforcement officials.

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