December 11, 2023

Republican Senator Tom Cotton warned that President Joe Biden‘s push to ban menthol cigarettes could create a “huge black market” for groups like Hezbollah to sell in the United States.

The White House has long sought to ban menthol cigarettes, which health advocates say can be more addictive and harder to quit than other tobacco products. But Biden’s administration has faced pushback on the plan from both sides of the aisle, including recent critics who warn that the ban could worsen the illegal drug market in the U.S.

In a post to X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday, Cotton, of Arkansas, claimed that Biden’s plan to bar menthol cigarettes was “paternalistic” and “hypocritical,” and raised concerns about how the ban could impact national security.

Republican Warns Hezbollah Will Have 'Huge' DrugMarket
Senator Tom Cotton is pictured at the U.S. Capitol on February 9, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Cotton warned on Wednesday that the Biden administration’s push to ban menthol cigarettes could open an opportunity for Lebanon militant group Hezbollah to trade contraband cigarettes in the U.S.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Joe Biden wants to ban menthol cigarettes, which are favored by black smokers,” Cotton wrote. “Meanwhile, he wants to legalize weed for white college kids and mail out free crack pipes.”

“The administration’s ban is paternalistic, it’s hypocritical, and it creates a huge black market for Mexican cartels and Hezbollah,” Cotton added. “And all because Mike Bloomberg told him to.”

Newsweek reached out to the White House Press Office via email for comment Wednesday evening.

The Food and Drug Administration sent final rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget regarding a ban on menthol cigarettes in October. As CNN reports, advocates for the ban say that restricting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Hezbollah, a militant group in Lebanon that the U.S. State Department characterizes as a terrorist organization, has previously been linked to illegal cigarette smuggling schemes both within the U.S. and abroad. In the 1990s, U.S. officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT) discovered that a portion of the profits made from a contraband cigarette scheme sold between North Carolina and Michigan were being put toward funding Hezbollah.

A similar scheme was discovered in New York in 2013, CNN previously reported, when 16 Palestinian men, some of whom had ties to known terrorist organizations, were indicted for smuggling contraband cigarettes across several state lines.

Tensions between militant groups such as Hezbollah and the Western world have risen in the past month after Palestinian militants Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel October 7, subsequently launching the Israeli government’s heaviest-ever military response on the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah leadership has touted that the group has a “plan and vision” for its involvement in the war, and conflict between the Israeli military and Hezbollah has escalated along the northern border of Israel.

Cotton’s statement on Wednesday arrived a day after Republican Congressman Andrew Garbarino, of New York, and Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz, of Florida, signed a joint letter that warned the pending FDA ban on menthol cigarettes could lead to “unintended national security consequences.”

“If there was ever a moment to pause and reevaluate the potential impact of every U.S. policy choice on our national security, this is the time,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is well-documented that Hezbollah is a leader in the illicit cigarette trade—not halfway around the world but right here in the Western Hemisphere,” the letter continued, which was addressed to Biden.

“There have been cases in which Hezbollah and Hamas cells have smuggled cigarettes into the United States to send the revenue overseas,” read the letter. “Given Hezbollah’s established cigarette business and its ties to the Mexican drug cartels, we cannot discount the potential for this FDA-proposed rule to open a massive revenue stream for this Hamas-allied foreign terrorist organization.”