The Socioeconomics of Menthol Cigarettes

By Marc Dion

November 25, 2019 4 min read

In my home state of Massachusetts, where a wily state government has found a way to do everything except stop people from leaving the older cities, there is a war on flavored tobacco and vaping products. A ban of both is on the way.

Ostensibly, this is to protect our children, who are presumably lured into smoking by flavored products.

"Who do they sell this junk to?" I once said to my wife, holding up a bottle of cupcake-flavored vodka in a local liquor store.

"I know who they sell it to," my wife said. "I used to BE a teenage girl."

I smoke a pipe. I can tell you from my own experience that I seldom have to fistfight a 16-year-old boy to get the last package of cherry-flavored pipe tobacco.

Tobacco use follows strange patterns.

In Massachusetts, where the ban will cover menthol cigarettes, just the words "menthol cigarettes" conjure up an image of the stereotypical urban poor person.

Do you live in one of the greener lawn suburbs? If you do, you think of the typical resident of my older city as a welfare-dependent woman, maybe 30 pounds overweight, emerging from the local Walmart with a cart full of cheese curls, lighting up a menthol cigarette while she waits for the taxicab that will take her back to the projects. She is wearing pajama pants and a hoodie, and there is an excellent chance she is clutching a large Styrofoam cup of flavored coffee.

When I was growing up in Missouri in the 1970s, to say the cigarette brand names Kool or Newport meant you were talking about African American people. White men didn't smoke menthols. It was unmanly. White women who smoked menthols smoked Salems.

I've worked loading dock jobs in Missouri and, when we dangled our feet off the edge of the dock to take our sit-down break, the three black guys on the crew each lit a Kool, while us two white boys pulled out our packs of Marlboros.

Who knows what that meant? Who knows what it means now?

I once tended bar with a very nice African American man who told me he wouldn't eat, drink or smoke any product advertised in black neighborhoods.

"If there's billboards for it in black neighborhoods, it kills you quicker than the stuff they sell in white neighborhoods," he said, squinting through the smoke of a Marlboro.

It's hard to tell if Massachusetts lawmakers want to take the familiar comfort of menthol smokes away from the poor because there is no penalty for aiming legislation at the poor, or if they want to protect the children of the poor.

Nearly all of the comforts enjoyed by the poor are ether illegal or deadly or both, and it has been so since the decades-ago time of bathtub gin, roll-your-own smokes and the solace of the opium pipe, which, like fentanyl, was imported from China and planted in poor neighborhoods like a putrid rose.

That's the thing about the poor. They are like a rose. They'll grow from a pile of manure and produce beautiful flowers that only last a short season. And, always, the legislators, people so privileged that they are frequently paid not to work, wonder why the poor try so hard to kill themselves so young. The answer is a cloud of smoke.

To find out more about Marc Monroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "The Land of Trumpin'," and is available in paperback from, and for Nook, iBooks, Kindle and GooglePlay.

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