Apr 26, 2024 - Health

Biden administration delays proposed menthol ban

photo of menthol cigarettes

Photo illustration: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Friday said it will take more time to review a long-awaited ban on menthol cigarettes, after months of delays have left the fate of the life-saving measure in limbo.

Why it matters: The ban is expected to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans over the next few decades and have an outsized impact in the Black community, but political considerations are prompting the delay.

  • Some in the White House have been concerned that banning products popular in the Black community could trigger backlash from a key voting bloc, the Washington Post reported in January.

What they're saying: "This rule has garnered historic attention and the public comment period has yielded an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement," Health secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement, adding that it will take "significantly more time."

Big picture: A menthol ban had been in discussion for years, and the administration has missed self-imposed deadlines to finalize the rules.

  • Menthol products make up more than one-third of U.S. tobacco sales, and tobacco companies historically have heavily marketed the products to the Black community, as well as young people.
  • Anti-tobacco groups in recent months mounted a heavy pressure campaign on the administration to enact the ban, worried that a chance to outlaw menthol products was slipping away.

"Two full years after releasing proposed rules backed by extensive scientific evidence — and more than a decade since the FDA began examining menthol cigarettes — the administration has failed to take decisive action to remove these deadly, addictive products from the market," Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

  • Studies cited by the Food and Drug Administration estimated a menthol ban would prevent up to 654,000 smoking-related deaths over the next 40 years, including as many as 238,000 deaths among African Americans.

Zoom in: Many civil rights groups and Black health groups support a menthol ban.

  • But some prominent Black leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned if a ban would increase policing of Black communities. The FDA has said the ban would be enforced against businesses and not individual consumers.
  • Tobacco companies are expected to challenge the ban if it's finalized.

What we're watching: The White House will apparently miss a coming deadline to finish the menthol ban in time to prevent the next Congress from potentially undoing it.

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