Sales of menthol cigarettes would be prohibited in New Jersey, if a proposal endorsed Monday by the Assembly health committee makes it into law.

Such a change would disrupt more than one-third of New Jersey’s cigarette market.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said other cooling agents and flavors added to cigarettes have been banned and that menthol should be, too. He said menthol is marketed particularly toward black men.

“Research has shown that menthol promotes addiction to nicotine and actually, because of the cooling effects, allows people to draw more of these toxic substances into the lung, hold them there and actually the science supports the fact that it promotes cancer,” Conaway said.

Menthol cigarette sales are banned in Brazil and will be in the European Union in 2022. A handful of American cities have banned them, as well – Minneapolis, Oakland and San Francisco – but no states, to date.

“If we’re able to achieve it here and perhaps move it across the country, we will save lives by undertaking it. I know it’s not going to be easy,” Conaway said.

Mary Ellen Peppard of the New Jersey Food Council said she was surprised to learn that menthol cigarettes account for 35 percent to 40 percent of cigarettes sold by the retailers in her group. She said businesses would lose tens of millions of dollars of sales – more than $80 million for one store.

“In addition to the direct revenue loss, it’s the ancillary sales as well,” said Peppard, the council’s assistant vice president for government affairs. “It’s the cup of coffee, the sandwich, the fuel if that customer decides to no longer go into their local retailer if they cannot get their product.”

Three of the health committee’s four Republicans voted against the ban. Even the one who approved, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, said people would just cross into other states to buy them.

“We’re such a small geographic state with easy access across the border that that is a concern,” said Munoz, R-Union.

“New Jersey’s not a big state, geographically, so if Pennsylvania doesn’t do the same thing or New York or Delaware, people travel to those states on a regular basis,” said Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon. “They could purchase them there and bring them back.”

New Jersey collects around $670 million a year in cigarette taxes. Around $250 million comes from menthol cigarettes, if the Food Council is correct in finding they account for 35 percent to 40 percent of sales.

Conaway said that’s far outweighed by the cost in lives and healthcare.

“There’s been a Faustian bargain around the government and taxation of these products,” Conaway said.

The Assembly health committee also advanced a bill that would require e-cigarette retailers to obtain a state license, which is already required for outlets that sell combustible cigarettes.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com