Tobacco

White House Says It Needs More Time to Review Menthol Cigarette Ban

Ban could result in angering Black voters, report says
menthol cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

More conversations and time are needed to review a menthol cigarette ban, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday regarding the White House’s decision to drop its planned menthol cigarette ban for now.  

“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. It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time,” Becerra said in a statement.

The White House had been weighing a decision to ban menthol cigarettes as it could anger some Black voters who favor the products, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2022 proposed rules that would ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. It had delayed finalizing the rule several times, most recently saying it would be published in March.

“The FDA remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars. As we’ve made clear, these product standards remain at the top of our priorities,” the FDA said in a statement to CSP late Friday afternoon.

The proposed menthol ban has received a mix of support and pushback. The FDA received more than 250,000 public comments on the menthol cigarette and flavored cigar bans.

Executive Director David Spross with the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) said at this year’s annual Midwest Fuel and Convenience Trade Show (M-PACT) in Indianapolis that “because of those 250,000 comments and the number of stakeholder meetings that have happened on this rule, the Biden administration realizes that this is a political issue.”

On April 2, after the projected March deadline had passed, public health groups filed a second lawsuit against the FDA for the agency’s inaction on issuing a final rule banning menthol cigarettes. The lawsuit comes more than seven months after the FDA’s initial date for finalizing the new rule and follows the FDA’s 15-year delay in equitable policymaking, according to a joint press release from the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health and the National Medical Association. The plaintiffs’ first lawsuit was filed on June 17, 2020.

“We’re extremely disappointed to be forced to file this second lawsuit against the FDA in support of protecting Americans from menthol cigarettes,” said Laurent Huber, executive director of action on smoking and health. “The FDA’s own research confirms that a menthol ban would save lives; there is no scientific reason to delay finalizing this rule.”

Industry groups and lawmakers in Congress have continued pushback saying these rules will add to the illicit tobacco market and affect convenience-store sales.

The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), which represents more than 150,000 c-stores in the United States, last November sent a letter to President Biden calling on the president to reconsider the FDA’s proposals to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

Bans “are likely to usher in an array of negative unintended consequences by adding to the already burgeoning illicit tobacco market, moving business away from legitimate companies to unregulated foreign producers, and removing the consumer guardrails put in place by responsible sellers like the convenience-store industry,” Doug Kantor, general counsel for NACS, said in the letter.

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