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The Biden administration is potentially placing a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes.
The official announcement is set to happen this week, according to anonymous Biden administration officials. The decision will impact Black smokers most as they overwhelmingly use menthol cigarettes, as reported by The Washington Post, though advocacy groups and lawmakers have been pushing for the ban for years. But even if a ban does happen, actually putting it into place may take years.
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“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,” per a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging for a ban. The letter was signed by 10 civil rights and Black health organizations, including the organization that represents Black physicians, the National Medical Association, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, and the NAACP.
To further make their point, the letter includes information about the the lengths tobacco companies went to promote menthol cigarettes such as handing out free samples in Black neighborhoods and promoting them at jazz festivals like the popular Kool Jazz Festival in the 70s and 80s.
More than three-fourths of African-Americans smoke the flavor.
The Food and Drug Administration has until Thursday to respond to a 2013 citizen petition requesting the menthol cigarette ban.
“There is not an open question on whether menthol in cigarettes is harmful — the evidence is overwhelming and consistent,” said Joelle Lester, the director of commercial tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, during a recent interview.
Last year, public health groups filed a suit to push the FDA on the ban. It is currently pending in Northern California’s federal district court.
“The Biden administration doesn’t know how to solve every problem. But they know what to do here, and they can do it,” added Lester.
But despite the backlash, menthol cigarettes are high in tobacco sales with Newport and Marlboro being two of the most popular brands.
Black lawmakers have also advocated for a ban. A majority of Black caucus members voted for House legislation that eradicated flavors in tobacco products, including menthol in cigarettes, back in 2020. The House passed the bill but it sat in the Senate. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) support the ban.
“A ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would do more to reduce youth tobacco use and health disparities than any other single action the federal government has ever undertaken,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Anti-smoking advocates say the pandemic revealed the link between smoking and the poor health of many African Americans.
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“COVID-19 exposed the discriminatory treatment that Black people have been facing for hundreds of years,” said Dr. Philip Gardiner, co-chairman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, per The New York Times last month.
He adds: “It’s precisely at this time that we need strong public health measures.”
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