US bans backwoods, swishers, and other flavored blunt wraps

Your illegal weed dealer could add menthol cigarettes and smuggled backwoods and swisher sweets to their offerings next year.

On Thursday April 29, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars from 2022. The FDA’s proposal responds to a lawsuit by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council calling for the national ban to be aimed at manufacturers and sellers of menthols and flavored cigars, not users.

Tobacco companies are likely to challenge the decision in court, according to Stat News.

However, such a ban would affect many cannabis users – especially black smokers – who roll marijuana into flavored tobacco or cigar leaves, commonly referred to as blunt. Two flavored brands accounted for half of cigar sales in 2020: Black and Mild, followed by Swisher Sweets.

A 2020 study found that a third of weed users smokes blunts, while nearly two-thirds of weed users smoke blunts. A separate study of Backwoods-tagged Stunt Wrap branded content on Instagram found that half of the #backwoods posts were related to marijuana.

The FDA is faced with health inequalities

The FDA aims to reduce tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The agency said the ban on menthols and flavored cigars would reduce the number of children who start smoking and encourage menthol smokers to quit.

The FDA also said it specifically wants to reduce the number of black Americans who die from tobacco. Three quarters of black smokers smoke menthols.

“Banning menthol – the last legal taste – in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, especially among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement.

A ban on menthol and flavored cigars would prevent 237,000 African American deaths from tobacco use.

FDA statement, April 29, 2021

The menthol ban could cause 923,000 US smokers to quit, including 230,000 black Americans in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect. A previous study claims the ban would prevent 633,000 deaths, including about 237,000 deaths that will be averted for African Americans.

To do this, massive tobacco companies and traders would be punished for the manufacture, distribution and sale of menthols and flavored tobacco at the earliest next year.

The blunt ban attracts critics on both sides

A menthol and flavored tobacco ban has been criticized not only by republican and libertarian petty government types, but also by the ACLU and other left-wing groups who are concerned about black overpolicing.

“A menthol cigarette ban would disproportionately affect color communities, which would lead to criminalization and more imprisonment. We can avoid this approach, ”tweeted the ACLU.

The criminalization of menthol cigarettes “really scares me,” Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told reporter Marc Gunther. “It will give law enforcement agencies another excuse to harass, monitor and monitor people of color,” she said. “This will have enormous racial differences.”

Cannabis users as well as members of the black community were shared in online comments.

Rappers Wiz Khalifa and Rick Ross are well known anti-blunt marijuana smokers. Most studies conclude that tobacco users are at an increased risk of cancer (6.7 times that of non-smokers). In contrast, users who only consume cannabis have a slightly increased risk of cancer (1.2-fold).

Other community members resent the loss of personal freedom to choose flavored packaging over paper.

A collection of flavored tobacco cigar leaf stump wrap (via International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020)

Blunt freedom isn’t worth the cost, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement.

“Certain sections of the population, including African Americans, have been affected by tobacco consumption for far too long and are disproportionately affected. Despite the tremendous strides we have made over the past 55 years in getting people to quit smoking, not everyone has seen these strides equally. “

Do bans work?

Critics of the ban also note that a Canadian menthol ban did not work. People switched to tasteless or bought from different suppliers. In addition, illegal tobacco imports in Massachusetts have increased in response to a taste ban in that state.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms also notes that the smooth, globalized trade in illegal tobacco is increasing. (In 2019 Leafly reported on how a globalized, illicit supply chain made up of independent small business owners can quickly get large-scale counterfeit products from a factory in Shenzhen, China, to the lungs of a teenage steamer in Utah.)

Conversely, a group of attorneys general supports the ban on flavored tobacco and doesn’t believe drug dealers would put illegal menthols and swishers on their shelves. The European Union and Canada have also taken action against flavored tobacco.

In reality, high tobacco taxes to curb consumption have created large illegal markets on the east coast, experts say. The illegal tobacco market in New York resulted in police killing Eric Garner for selling “Loosie” cigarettes. Garner’s mother opposed a proposed New York menthol ban that could not be passed.

Are we repeating the story?

Shrewd historians will find that the same language that was used in the 1930s to criminalize cannabis (to save vulnerable minorities from personal health choices) is now used to criminalize flavored tobacco sellers. For example, American architects of the 1911 drug war worried: “Hasheesh, whom we know very little about in this country, will no doubt be adopted by many unfortunate people if they can get it.”

“If the Biden government bans menthol cigarettes, it will continue this long and unfortunate tradition,” wrote a drug policy critic this week.

Pot is now legal and menthols are under attack “because weeds are now white and rich, but menthols remain black and poor,” tweeted Reason’s Nick Gillespie.

“Stop creating more reasons to call the police.”

Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner commentator

“Stop creating more reasons to call the police. That’s what this will do. Give Karens a reason to call bodega owners and street vendors about menthols, ”said Tiana Lowe, commentator for the Washington Examiner.

The tremendous health improvements in black lives are worth the police risks for progressive Health and Social Affairs Minister Xavier Becerra, who praised the FDA.

“Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that, over time, will help end the cycle of children who will become the next generation of smokers and address long-standing health inequalities.”

Other unintended consequences

The blunt smoking culture itself can, in part, be an unintended consequence of tobacco control efforts.

The Backwoods brand rose sharply after a universal ban on cigarette advertising in 1970 when tobacco manufacturers switched to marketing small cigars (also known as “cigarillos”) that were exempt from the marketing ban.

The 1970 universal marketing ban also encouraged tobacco sellers to target specific audiences, including minorities, towards micro-targets.

The FDA said its 2009 flavored cigarette ban may also have resulted in blunt wrap adoption.

“Following the legal ban on flavorings in cigarettes other than menthol in 2009, the use of flavored cigars increased dramatically, suggesting that the public health goals of the prohibition of flavored cigarettes may have been undermined by the continued availability of these flavored cigars “stated the FDA.

In 2017, Imperial Brands PLC praised the success of Backwoods in its annual report, noting that annual profit increased 10.1% that year. “Our investment in new customer activation and loyalty programs … has produced excellent results, including further equity gains,” said Imperial Brands.

Other critics envision previously unknown unintended consequences. For example: do-it-yourself menthol solutions – like the use of spray-on menthol sold at gas stations – could also increase.

Is it time for the US to give up menthols and flavored cigars? Comment below.

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as chief of the California Bureau for He has written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and author of several cannabis books including ‘Marijuana Harvest’ by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He is the co-host of the Hash Podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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