While the Biden administration sends troops to the southern border to handle an expected influx of migrants resulting from the expiration of the Title 42 public, the White House’s tobacco-related policies could worsen the crisis at our borders.
Border security is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive approach to tackle the various challenges it presents. The threat posed by cartels moving illicit products into the U.S. is just one component of border security and ensuring our policies do not create greater demand for illegal items is critical to the safety and well-being of Americans.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has announced two tobacco-related policies that may have unintended consequences for our border. In the coming year, the administration is expected to implement a menthol tobacco ban and a Very Low Nicotine Content rule that will ostensibly ban almost all cigarettes in the country.
These policies will virtually make all cigarettes in the U.S. illegal, which will undoubtedly create a massive black market for tobacco products that organized crime groups, particularly Mexican cartels, would exploit. These criminal organizations have extensive experience in smuggling illegal drugs into the U.S., and they could easily adapt to this new market and start smuggling cigarettes.
Many cartels are looking for new products. A new report shows growing legalization of cannabis in the U.S. is impacting organized crime groups in Mexico, with cartels shifting away from marijuana, which was once a staple in their business, to other drugs like methamphetamine.
There is already a cartel in Mexico taking strides to control the production of illicit cigarettes by “controlling a key criminal group behind the trade and staving off competitors.” The rise of this new cartel that strong-arms vendors to sell their illicit cigarette brands in large parts of Mexico has sparked concern about criminal organizations seeking fresh income streams – which could be tobacco products if the U.S. bans cigarettes.
We should look to the Prohibition era in the 1920s as a cautionary tale of how banning a product can create a lucrative market for bootleggers and organized crime groups. Not to mention, unregulated products become more dangerous and a greater harm to public health when they’re not held to a legal standard.
The same scenario could unfold with the Biden administration’s proposed tobacco-related policies, leading to a rise in violence, corruption and instability in the border region. Mexican cartels are known to use extreme violence to maintain their control over their operations in the U.S., including kidnappings, assassinations, and other violent crimes that have had a significant negative impact on American communities, particularly those along the southern border.
If the Biden administration is serious about border security, it must take a holistic approach and consider the potential unintended consequences of its policies across the Executive Branch.
While banning cigarettes may seem like a well-intentioned public health measure, it could have unintended consequences that could fuel Mexican cartels and organized crime groups. With the situation at our border already increasingly volatile, the last thing America should be doing is creating a new market for these cartels by banning legal products. I urge Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) to recognize the threat these proposals will pose to his constituents and prevent any new Food and Drug Administration funding to be used to advance these ill-conceived policies.
Jobe Dickinson is the President of the Border Security Alliance and a retired law enforcement officer.s