Biden Administration To Propose Ban On Menthol Cigarettes

Written by Carmine Sabia

OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion

Joe Biden is set to announce a new ban that is going to have cigarette users furious.

This week the Biden administration is expected to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes because of the damage it apparently does to black communities, The Washington Post reported.

The Biden administration is expected to announce this week that it will propose a ban on menthol cigarettes, an action urgently sought by tobacco opponents and civil rights groups that say African Americans have been disproportionately hurt by the industry’s aggressive targeting of Black communities.

The administration also is poised to say it will seek to ban menthol and other flavors in mass-produced cigars, including small cigars popular with young people, according to administration officials familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it publicly.

It could be years before such bans would take effect, but the administration’s announcement is likely to be hailed by antismoking organizations as a critical and long-overdue step in curbing tobacco use and improving public health. Despite sharp declines in smoking in recent years, tobacco use remains a leading source of illness and death in the United States and worldwide, especially among people of color.

Antismoking groups have been frustrated for years by Washington’s inaction on menthol cigarettes and have turned to states and localities to request bans, with mixed success. They became more optimistic about a possible federal ban in recent months amid President Biden’s repeated vows to reduce health disparities made glaringly obvious by the coronavirus pandemic, and efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement to focus on institutionalized racism.

“There is not an open question on whether menthol in cigarettes is harmful — the evidence is overwhelming and consistent,” director of commercial tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota said.

“The Biden administration doesn’t know how to solve every problem. But they know what to do here, and they can do it,” he said.

This month 10 groups sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in which they asked for the Food and Drug Administration to begin the process of banning menthol cigarettes.

“The predatory marketing of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products must be stopped and we should all recognize this as a social justice issue, and one that disproportionately impacts youth and communities of color,” the letter, signed by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the NAACP and the National Medical Association, said.

Some African American leaders have said that banning a product that is particularly popular among black people is racist.

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“[W]e have concerns that a blanket prohibition on menthol and other flavored tobacco products, which will apply to adults, will (1) disproportionately impact people and communities of color; (2) trigger criminal penalties, prioritizing criminalization over public health and harm reduction; and (3) instigate unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement,” Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, The American Civil Liberties Union and other said in a letter to Congress last year.

“Any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color,” it said.

“Similarly, enforcement of a ban on flavored cigars will also disproportionally impact people of color given cigar preferences. Black adults are 60% of cigarillo and non-premium cigar smokers, with these products often flavored. Additionally, at Committee markup, H.R. 2339 was amended to exempt certain traditional, expensive cigars from a prohibition of online tobacco sales. There is no justification for differentiating a La Palina from a Black and Mild. Making this distinction undermines the public health arguments made for this bill and suggests that some tobacco preferences, within certain communities, will be prioritized and protected over others,” the groups said.