The Biden administration is planning on banning menthol cigarettes, claiming that the move would help black Americans, reports the Washington Post.
The ban comes as the F.D.A is forced to act by a court-ordered deadline, which was ordered by a judge in Northern California, requiring the agency to respond to a petition by citizens to ban the cigarettes.
The proposal would also ban all mass-produced flavored cigars, which include cigarillos. The ban would not include e-cigarettes, which are being reviewed by the F.D.A.
The Biden administration is also considering requiring tobacco manufacturers to lower the amounts of nicotine within cigarettes to nonaddictive levels; however, this decision will not be announced this week.
Many anti-smoking groups and health experts praised the move.
There is not an open question on whether menthol in cigarettes is harmful — the evidence is overwhelming and consistent,” said Joelle Lester, director of commercial tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota. “The Biden administration doesn’t know how to solve every problem. But they know what to do here, and they can do it.”
Tobacco companies heavily marketed menthol cigarettes to the black community.
“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,” said a letter from several civil rights and black health groups to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The letter added that tobacco companies gave out free samples of the menthol cigarettes at gatherings within black neighborhoods, promoted the cigarettes through mass advertising, and sponsored cultural and educational events popular in the black community, such as jazz festivals.
The tobacco industry has denied marketing menthol cigarettes to the black community.
Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for Reynolds America, the maker of Newport, a popular menthol cigarette, said that the company markets its products “to reach a wide and diverse audience of adult smokers, regardless of their ethnicity or gender, with the intention of persuading smokers to choose one of our brands rather than a brand of one of our competitors.”
Hollon also claims that “the science does not support regulating menthol cigarettes differently than non-menthol cigarettes, and the many issues implicated by a menthol cigarette ban — science, illicit trade and unintended consequences — are important and merit careful thought.”
The ACLU is weary of this ban, citing that the move will hurt the black community rather than help it.
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” said a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and other officials by the ACLU and other groups. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
“A number of police encounters resulting in tragic deaths are linked to police enforcement of tobacco laws: Eric Garner, killed by a police chokehold, was illegally selling ‘loosie’ cigarettes, and Michael Brown was killed after being suspected of stealing a box of cigarillos,” continued the letter. “Even in the case of George Floyd, police were called to investigate a counterfeit bill used to purchase cigarettes.”