Tobacco

Biden Administration Expected to Delay Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

Rule expected to be finalized in March, says report
Menthol cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Biden administration will delay a ban on menthol cigarettes, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The proposal faced fierce lobbying from critics who warned that a prohibition could anger some Black smokers who favor the products and could hurt Biden’s reelection prospects, the Post reported, citing anonymous administration officials.

The convenience-store industry has also urged the White House to reconsider the ban amid concerns of the creation of a black market and the negative effect it would have on small businesses. Menthol cigarettes account for 34% of cigarette sales in c-stores today, according to data from the National Association of Convenience Stores. Collectively, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars accounted for $23.7 billion in sales last year, NACS said.

“History has proven that prohibition of a legal product that has an established user base doesn’t work and has negative consequences for our communities,” Anna Blom, NACS director of government relations, said.

The Biden administration is expected to announce Wednesday that it plans in March to finalize federal rules that would take menthol cigarettes off the market, the publication said. The delay is expected to be noted in the Biden administration’s regulatory agenda, which is not binding.

Officials at one point had hoped to finalize the rule in August and later pushed it to January. Once published, it would be at least a year until the rule took effect.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing the plan, written by the Food and Drug Administration, since October. The agency is limited from discussing the rules until they are published.

The FDA is also pursuing a ban on flavored cigars and new limits lowering the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes, but the process of finalizing those rules is also set to be delayed until at least March, the Washington Post said.

When the FDA announced in April 2022 that it would seek to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, it said the proposed product standards were based on “clear science and evidence establishing the addictiveness and harm of these products.”

Menthol is a flavor additive with a minty taste and aroma that reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking. This increases appeal and makes menthol cigarettes easier to use, particularly for youth and young adults, the FDA has said. Menthol also makes it more difficult for people to quit smoking.

More than 18.5 million people in the United States smoked menthol cigarettes in 2019, with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults and African American and other racial and ethnic groups, the FDA said.

As Biden ramps up his reelection campaign, Democrats have voiced concerns that his flagging popularity could mean low turnout among Black voters, the Washington Post reported. The proposed ban has revealed deep fissures in the African American community, with proponents saying that removing menthol cigarettes will save hundreds of thousands of lives, but others saying a ban would foster an underground market, leading police to disproportionately target smokers who are Black, the Post said.

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