Biden Delays Menthol Ban Amid 2024 Concerns Over Black Support in Upcoming Election

    Haisten Willis over at the Washington Examiner has an interesting update to a story we first brought you back in 2022: Why a Menthol Ban is Not Kool

    A two-year-old proposal to ban menthol cigarettes may be delayed until after the 2024 election as President Joe Biden weighs a move that could risk eroding his support within the black community. [Editor’s note: there has been an update to this story appearing in the April 26th edition of the Wall Street Journal]

    The Food and Drug Administration first proposed banning menthols and flavored cigars in April 2022 but has since missed two deadlines for finalizing the rule, the second of which expired at the end of March. 

    “The FDA remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars as expeditiously as possible,” the agency said in a statement, noting that the process is in its final stage. “As we’ve made clear, these product standards remain at the top of our priorities.”

    But some observers say other priorities are behind the delay, namely the lack of support for the idea as the election sharpens into view. 

    Biden’s menthol ban has received praise from public health advocates who say it can save hundreds of thousands of lives. The tobacco industry is also accused of disproportionately targeting the black community with its marketing of menthol cigarettes.

    But the issue has divided black community leaders and drawn opposition from law enforcement groups. 

    The Rev. Al Sharpton has come out against the ban, saying it will give police more reason to target black people, though the ban’s advocates point out that he has accepted donations from industry groups. 

    Gwen Carr, an activist and the mother of Eric Garner, says the ban is inconsistent and racially inequitable. About 81% of black adult smokers used menthol cigarettes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to 34% of white adult smokers.

    “Menthol has not killed anyone; it’s nicotine,” she said last year. “If you’re going to ban smoking, don’t make it a racist thing. Ban it all or ban none.”

    Garner was killed in Staten Island in 2014 after New York City police officers attempted to stop him from selling single cigarettes, or “loosies,” on the black market and an officer put Garner in a chokehold. Police groups say the ban will create underground demand that they will be tasked with enforcing. 

    With Biden’s reelection looming in November and his support among black voters in danger, Democratic strategist TJ Rooney argues the president is right to put off the ban until next year.

    “People of all race, creeds, and colors know the dangers of smoking,” he said. “My hope is that the big thinkers are equally concerned with explaining the broader picture of what’s at stake in this election. This is a great issue for 2025.”

    Republican strategist Doug Heye agreed, though he also doubts the issue would carry much weight in boosting Republican support. 

    “Biden definitely doesn’t want to touch this before the election,” he said. “And if you’re a Republican, there are a lot more salient issues to voters.”

    A poll released when the ban was first proposed found that between 50% and 52% of voters in three swing states oppose it, while only between 28% and 31% are in support. Previous attempts by the government to ban menthol cigarettes, in 2013 and 2018, were unsuccessful. 

    The White House did not comment on the situation, noting that the rulemaking process is ongoing. The Biden and Trump campaigns did not respond to questions from the Washington Examiner.

    Even if delaying the ban works out politically, its backers may be running out of patience. Anti-smoking groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday trying to force the government’s hand regardless of the political consequences.

    “Because of defendants’ inaction, tobacco companies have continued to use menthol cigarettes to target youth, women, and the Black community,” the complaint reads, per the Associated Press, “all to the detriment of public health.”

    The preceding article originally appeared on April 5, 2024 at the Washington Examiner’s website and is made available here for educational purposes only. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 106A-117 of the U.S. Copyright Law.