Menthol cigarette ban delayed due to “immense” feedback, Biden administration says

April 28, 2024

The Biden administration said Friday it would again delay a decision on a regulation aiming to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, citing the “historic attention” and “immense amount of feedback” on the controversial proposal by the Food and Drug Administration. 

“This rule has garnered historic attention and the public comment period has yielded an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

The White House had already overshot a previous self-imposed date to decide on the regulation by March. The rule had been stalled in an interagency review process.

A senior administration official said it was hard to put a timeline on the delay, citing lingering disagreements after “months of hard conversations.”

The official said they are asking for more time to hear from outside groups, especially on the civil rights side. 

They acknowledged high rates of Black Americans dying from use of menthol cigarettes, which drove the FDA’s initial push for a ban, but said there were civil rights concerns about how such a rule would be enforced.

The American Civil Liberties Union is among the groups that has lobbied for months against a menthol cigarette ban, warning it would “disproportionately impact people of color” and “prioritize criminalization over republic health and harm reduction.”

“It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time,” Becerra said in his statement.

The White House has so far fielded more than 100 meetings over the proposal with dozens of outside groups for and against the regulation, ranging from convenience store associations to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Public health groups have voiced frustration for months over repeated delays to the FDA’s proposal that agency officials had hoped would be a core part of a federal push to significantly cut smoking rates in the U.S. 

Advocates have worried that delays will push the rule into a window that would allow opponents to overturn the rule using the Congressional Review Act during the next presidential term.

“The administration’s inaction is enabling the tobacco industry to continue aggressively marketing these products and attracting and addicting new users,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said in a statement. 

In a statement, FDA spokesperson James McKinney said the agency “remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars” as a top priority.

At a House Appropriations Committee hearing this month, FDA Administrator Robert Califf said said he hoped the ban could be cleared by the end of the year.

“I’m a cardiologist and I practiced in North Carolina for 35 years. I probably have seen more people die from tobacco related illness than almost any physician because I was an intensivist who dealt with the end stage of the disease. This is a top priority for us,” he said.

–Nancy Cordes contributed reporting.

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