The likelihood of a ban on menthol cigarettes in the United States is increasing as the impact of menthol cigarettes on Black Americans becomes clearer, according to an article in The New York Times.
Many public health advocates have been pushing for a crackdown on menthol cigarettes, but thus far no federal ban has been enacted.
Critics accuse the tobacco industry of marketing menthol cigarettes disproportionally to Black Americans, highlighting racial inequities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black smokers smoke less but die at a higher rate from heart attacks, strokes and other tobacco-related diseases than white smokers do. The FDA reports that 85 percent of Black smokers use Newport, Kool and other menthol brands. Menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than plain tobacco, according to health advocates.
“Covid-19 exposed the discriminatory treatment that Black people have been facing for hundreds of years,” said Phillip Gardiner, a co-chairman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, which has been pushing for menthol bans in communities across the country. “It’s precisely at this time that we need strong public health measures.”
Support for a menthol ban has been growing at various levels of government. Many states and municipalities have been passing laws at the state and local level to ban menthol cigarettes, and with many white parents supporting sweeping flavor bans, it has “brought new resources to the issue.”
The FDA is also under a court order to respond to a citizens’ petition for a menthol ban by April 29th.
Many are hopeful that the Biden administration will move forward with a ban, looking to Biden’s past support of tobacco control measures.
“We are thinking about all of our options that could help reduce tobacco use and address persistent disparities,” said Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the White House.
In 2018, Scott Gottlieb, FDA director under the Trump administration, announced that the FDA would enact a ban on menthol but was immediately opposed by North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who represents a prominent tobacco-growing state. Burr later convinced the administration to kill the ban in 2019.
Gottlieb believes that the Biden administration will put a menthol ban in place. “We opened the door on this in a Republican administration,” he said. “You don’t think a Democratic administration will finish the business? Of course they will.”