Biden administration delays menthol cigarette ban again amid political concerns

The Biden administration is again delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes amid political pressure and complaints from some advocates who say it unfairly targets Black smokers who favor such products.

“This rule has received historic attention and the public comment period generated an immense amount of comment, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movements,” the Secretary of Health and Human Services said Friday. to Social Services, Xavier Becerra, in a press release. “It is clear that there is still a lot of discussion to be had, and it will take a lot more time.”

Federal officials stressed that the ban could still be finalized this year, but public health experts said they were frustrated that a ban once debated within the Obama administration was still under consideration.

Another delay is “devastating,” Cleveland Public Health Director David Margolius wrote in a text message. About 35 percent of adults in the Cleveland metro area smoke cigarettes, more than three times the national average, and smoking is the leading cause of death. “15 years late. »

Public health experts and civil rights groups have repeatedly urged President Biden to finalize the ban, which was initially planned last summer but was opposed by the tobacco industry. Political advisers have warned that Biden could lose support by banning products popular in the Black community, jeopardizing votes in what is expected to be a close election in November.

In 2009, Congress and the Obama administration banned other flavored cigarettes but left menthol products, smoked by about 19 million Americans, on the market. Cigarettes are disproportionately popular among the Black community: More than 80% of Black smokers chose menthol brands in 2020, compared to 34% of white smokers, according to data cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials have said menthol cigarettes are particularly addictive because they enhance nicotine’s effect on the brain, creating a cooling sensation that makes the smoke less harsh and easier to inhale.

The Food and Drug Administration, which crafted the ban, said it remained committed to implementing the rules, pending approval from the White House. Outside advocates said there was no evidence the ban would harm Biden’s re-election prospects — and clear evidence of its public health benefits.

“There is absolutely no reason to further delay a policy that has been studied for more than 12 years, is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence, and will save hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Yolonda C. Richardson, President and CEO of the Campaign. for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, in a joint statement this month. “Make no mistake: Delays cost lives, especially black lives. »

Federal officials previously touted the effort as part of Biden’s cancer initiative, which aims to reduce the threat of cancer, the second leading cause of death in America.

The planned crackdown on menthol cigarettes “would represent the most significant regulatory actions yet to limit the number of deaths and illnesses linked to highly addictive and dangerous tobacco products on the market today,” the White House said in a fact sheet from March 2022. The White House said last year that the planned ban could prevent up to 654,000 deaths — including about 238,000 in the Black community — over the next four decades. The FDA finalized the ban last year and sent it to the White House for final review.

But authorities delayed the ban until December 2023 and missed their self-imposed deadline to finalize it in March. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and two other anti-tobacco groups sued the FDA this month over delays, alleging that federal officials “unreasonably and unlawfully delayed” the rescue measures.

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