Biden Administration Delays Ban On Menthol Cigarettes Amid Dueling Health, Political Pressures


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Biden Administration Delays Ban On Menthol Cigarettes Amid Dueling Health, Political Pressures
Biden Administration Delays Ban On Menthol Cigarettes Amid Dueling Health, Political Pressures

WASHINGTON — For the second time in recent months, President Joe Biden’s administration has delayed a sweeping plan to ban menthol cigarettes, a decision that is certain to infuriate anti-smoking advocates but could avoid angering Black voters ahead of November elections.

Menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products are displayed at a store in San Francisco on May 17, 2018. 

In a statement Friday, Biden’s top health official gave no timeline for issuing the rule, saying only that the administration would take more time to consider feedback, including from civil rights groups.

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

The White House has held dozens of meetings in recent months with groups opposing the ban, including civil rights organizers, law enforcement officials and small business owners.

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The announcement is another setback for the health officials at the Food and Drug Administration, who drafted the ban and predicted it would prevent hundreds of thousands of smoking-related deaths over 40 years. The agency has worked toward banning menthol across multiple administrations for more than a decade without ever finalizing a rule.

Previous FDA efforts on menthol have been derailed by tobacco industry pushback or competing political priorities. With both Biden and former President Donald Trump vying for the support of Black voters, the potential impact of the decision has been scrutinized by Republicans and Democrats heading into November’s election.

Anti-smoking advocates have been pushing the FDA to eliminate the flavor since the agency gained authority to regulate certain tobacco ingredients in 2009. Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that wasn’t banned under that law, a carveout negotiated by industry allies in Congress. But the law instructed the FDA to study the issue.

More than 11% of U.S. adults smoke, with rates roughly even between white and Black people. But about 80% of Black smokers smoke menthol, which the FDA says masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit. Most teenagers who smoke cigarettes also smoke menthols.

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