American Lung Association Blasts Biden for Inaction on Menthol Cigarette Ban

 WEDNESDAY, Jan. 24, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- The American Lung Association’s annual report on smoking blasts President Joe Biden for failing to finalize rules that would end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

Last month, the Biden administration announced it was delaying until March a ban on menthol cigarettes that has been in the works for years.

In response, the lung association's “State of Tobacco Control” report released Wednesday takes Biden to task for this decision.

“Right now, President Biden can take action and save lives if he finalizes the rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars,” Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the lung association, said in a news release.

“Menthol cigarettes make it both easier to start and harder to quit by reducing the harshness of the smoke and cooling the throat,” Wimmer explained. “Once these rules are final, fewer people will start smoking, millions will begin their journey to quit and lives will be saved.”

Menthol cigarettes pose a serious political problem for Biden, who needs the support of Black voters to win re-election.

Black people are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than smokers of other races or ethnicities, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, about 7 in 10 Black adults ages 18 to 34 who currently smoke cigarettes use ones flavored with menthol, compared to about 4 in 10 White adults, the CDC says.

When first announced in April 2022, the proposed ban on menthol cigarettes came under immediate attack by some civil rights leaders with ties to Big Tobacco.

These leaders raised concerns that the ban would criminalize menthol cigarettes and be used by police to target Black smokers in potentially deadly confrontations.

The FDA took these concerns into account when crafting the rule, which would ban the manufacturing and sale of menthol cigarettes but does not empower police to go after smokers, CNN reported.

“This regulation does not include a prohibition on individual consumer possession or use, and FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumers for possession or use of menthol cigarettes,” the proposed rule states. “FDA’s enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers.”

The NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus have endorsed the ban, pointing out that the measure could save hundreds of thousands of Black lives.

"The relentless predatory marketing of menthol-flavored cigarettes employed by the tobacco industry has inflicted devastating consequences on Black communities,” Patrice Willoughby, NAACP senior vice president of global policy and impact, said in a statement earlier this month.

“Our message remains clear -- if the Biden Administration truly cares about Black lives, they will act swiftly to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products,” Willoughby added.

Wimmer noted that tobacco use in the United States is responsible for 480,000 deaths each year, including 45,000 Black people.

“We know that the tobacco industry will do anything to protect their profits at the expense of public health, so the White House must focus on implementing lifesaving policies and push back against the industry’s delay tactics,” Wimmer said.

In its report, the lung association highlighted four key actions for Biden and Congress to take in 2024:

  • Finalize rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars

  • Crack down on illegal e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products

  • Maintain or increase funding for the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health

  • Pass bipartisan legislation giving more people access to resources that will help them quit tobacco

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about menthol cigarette smoking.

SOURCE: American Lung Association, news release, Jan. 24, 2024; CNN

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