The White House has postponed the ban on menthol cigarettes, causing concern among those who advocate against smoking.

The White House is delaying their review of a comprehensive proposal from U.S. health regulators to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes. This unexpected delay has raised concerns among anti-tobacco organizations that the rule may not be implemented as planned.

According to an updated regulatory agenda posted online, government officials stated that the process will carry on into the following year and aim to put the rule into effect in March. It was previously anticipated that the rule would be released in late 2023 or early January.

The Food and Drug Administration has dedicated a significant amount of time to creating a strategy to remove menthol from the market. This action could potentially save 300,000 to 650,000 lives from smoking-related deaths over the course of several decades. Majority of these preventable fatalities are expected to be among the Black American population, who have a higher percentage of menthol smokers compared to other groups.

The tobacco industry and other political priorities have hindered past FDA attempts to address menthol. The most recent setback is due to concerns from certain Democrats about President Joe Biden’s chances in a potential rematch with Donald Trump.

Anti-smoking groups have spent years backing the effort. And some warned on Wednesday that the proposal, which would give cigarette companies one year to phase out the flavor, could be held up indefinitely.

Yolanda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, stated that any postponement in approving the FDA’s menthol regulation would benefit the tobacco industry while disregarding the well-being of Black individuals. She urges the administration to fulfill their commitment and release a definitive rule before the year’s end.

Menthol cigarettes are the only flavor that was not prohibited by the 2009 legislation which granted the FDA control over tobacco items. The cooling sensation of the flavor can facilitate smoking initiation and hinder quitting, leading to its widespread appeal. Approximately 85% of African American smokers choose menthol cigarettes.

In October, representatives from the FDA submitted their completed regulation to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. This is typically the final stage before a rule is officially published.

The White House has consented to scheduling numerous discussions with organizations that are against the regulation, such as those advocating for civil rights, business proprietors, and law enforcement officials. In almost all instances, the groups opposing the prohibition have received contributions from tobacco companies.

According to a government website, there have been over 60 meetings scheduled with budget office employees to discuss the rule. These discussions are expected to continue until January. Records indicate that only three of these meetings have been with health organizations.

The gatherings highlight the significance of the issue and the interest it is receiving from influential African American figures and top officials in the Biden administration.

On November 20, a gathering was held that involved Ben Crump, a lawyer focused on civil rights, and Kendrick Meek, a former congressman who currently works as a lobbyist for a law firm that represents Reynolds American, a tobacco company. Over 25 government officials were also present at the online meeting, including Robert Califf, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which has received financial support from cigarette companies such as Reynolds, requested the meeting. The group has been airing advertisements in the Washington area, cautioning that a prohibition on menthol cigarettes could harm the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The FDA and proponents of public health have consistently dismissed these worries, clarifying that the FDA’s implementation of the regulation would only affect companies involved in the production or sale of cigarettes, not individual smokers.


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