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Antismoking advocates blast White House for delaying ban on menthol cigarettes


HHS: More time needed to study potential effects of new rules for flavored tobacco products.

menthol cigarettes mint leaves: © New Africa - stock.adobe.com

© New Africa - stock.adobe.com

Health groups say banning menthol cigarettes would improve health while targeting racially discriminatory marketing and advertising practices.

The administration of President Joe Biden said further study is needed.

The end of April marks the two-year anniversary of the president’s advisers contemplating new rules for tobacco products. Since April 2022, health advocates have been hoping for a ban on adding menthol that gives a minty taste to cigarettes and infusing flavors in cigars to appeal to youths.

It’s not happening, or at least not right 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,” said a statement by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time.”

The statement came out in the same month the White House declared as National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month, said Lisa Lacasse, president of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

“With 30% of all cancer deaths due to smoking, it is hard to imagine how the president can meet the goals of the Cancer Moonshot without meaningfully addressing tobacco use,” Lacasse’s statement said.

April also is National Minority Health Month, which HHS has said builds awareness about health disparities that racial and ethnic minorities experience. The goal also is to encourage action that ends those inequities.

ACS CAN said: “Big Tobacco has used the flavored tobacco products for decades to target Black communities, who, as a result, consistently report the highest prevalence of menthol cigarette use” – 83.1% compared with 56.5% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander smokers, 48% of Hispanic smokers, 41.5% of Asian smokers and 31.6% of White smokers.

Flavored products also are used to hook the next generation of smokers, with Big Tobacco offering cigars and cigarillos tasting like menthol, banana, mango, grape and chocolate, according to ACS CAN.

Historically, youth smoking rates are at record lows, although ACS CAN estimated 420,000 American students used cigars in 2023, with Black, Hispanic or Latino youths twice as likely to smoke cigars as White youths.

“Instead of taking these deadly products off the market, which could save as many as 654,000 lives, including the lives of more than 238,000 African Americans, over the next 40 years, according to modeling studies, the administration is giving the tobacco industry free rein to continue to deepen these disparities and addict a new, younger generation,” the ACS CAN statement said.

American Lung Association (ALA) President and CEO Harold Wimmer said the organization supports the president’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative, but he ripped the administration’s announcement.

“The Biden administration’s decision to delay gives the tobacco industry more time to predatorily target and hook youth as well as members of historically underrepresented communities, including Black individuals to their deadly products,” Wimmer said in a statement. “There is no reason the White House should further delay the opportunity to address the number one cause of death among the Black community in the U.S. and to reduce the number of young people from ever trying tobacco in the first place.”

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, called the decision disappointing. She led the Caucus’ efforts to enact the ban. Her statement remarked on the history of the tobacco industry targeting minority communities.

“The FDA’s experts have been clear that menthol cigarettes are harmful to public health,” she said in a statement. “This is a commonsense plan which could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

“In 2019, approximately 85% of non-Hispanic Black or African American smokers used menthol cigarettes, compared to 30% of non-Hispanic white smokers,” Kelly said. “This is the direct result of a deliberate decision made decades ago by the tobacco industry to target Black Americans with marketing for menthol cigarettes. In the 1950s, fewer than 10% of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes.”

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