Washington, November 10, 2022 — White House officials have announced a delay in reviewing a comprehensive plan proposed by U.S. health regulators to ban menthol cigarettes. This unexpected development has raised concerns among anti-tobacco groups who fear that the long-awaited rule may be jeopardized.
In an updated regulatory agenda posted online, administration officials stated that the review process will extend into the next year, with the goal of implementing the rule in March. Previously, it was widely anticipated that the rule would be published either in late 2023 or early January.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has dedicated extensive time to developing this plan, which aims to eliminate menthol cigarettes. It is estimated that this action could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking-related deaths over several decades. Significantly, a large portion of these preventable deaths would potentially be among Black Americans, as they are disproportionately impacted by menthol cigarette consumption.
Past FDA efforts to address menthol cigarettes have faced obstacles such as opposition from the tobacco industry and competing political agendas across different administrations. The recent delay has surfaced amidst lingering concerns by some Democrats regarding President Joe Biden’s chances of winning a potential rematch against Donald Trump.
For years, anti-smoking groups have actively supported this initiative, and now, some are cautioning that the proposal could face an indefinite holdup. The plan suggests that cigarette companies be given a one-year transition period to phase out menthol-flavored products.
Yolanda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, voiced her concern about any further delays in finalizing the FDA’s menthol rule. She emphasized that such delays would greatly benefit the tobacco industry at the expense of Black lives. Richardson urged the administration to fulfill its promise and issue a final rule by the end of this year.
FDA Regulation Faces Opposition Over Menthol Ban
The regulation proposed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regarding a ban on menthol cigarettes has encountered significant opposition. In October, FDA officials submitted their final version of the regulation to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, a customary step before a rule is officially released.
However, the White House has decided to engage in numerous meetings with groups that oppose the menthol ban. These groups include civil rights advocates, business owners, and law enforcement officials. It is worth noting that most of these opposing groups have received donations from tobacco companies.
A government website reveals that over 60 meetings on this matter have been scheduled with budget office staffers, continuing into January. Surprisingly, records show that only three of these meetings have been held with health groups.
This ongoing focus on the issue highlights the involvement of prominent African American leaders and senior members of the Biden administration. On November 20th, a virtual meeting took place with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, lobbyist Kendrick Meek (a former congressman), Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and more than two dozen government officials. Notably, Reynolds American, a tobacco company, counts among the clients of Meek’s law firm.
The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives requested this meeting and has received funding from cigarette manufacturers like Reynolds. The group has been running advertisements through local Washington media outlets, cautioning that a menthol ban could harm the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
In response to these concerns, both the FDA and health advocates have consistently refuted them. They emphasize that the FDA’s enforcement of the rule would solely affect companies involved in manufacturing or selling cigarettes, rather than individual smokers.