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The Biden administration is planning to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes, according to several reports, after years of lobbying from public health groups and civil rights activists who say that the products frequently have been aggressively marketed towards, and disproportionately harmed Black communities.
The proposed ban will likely be announced Thursday, according to CBS News, in part because the Food and Drug Administration is under a court deadline to respond to a citizens' proposal to ban menthol products by that day. Any ban will likely take years to take effect, but would be a step forward according to anti-smoking groups.
Menthol cigarettes have been pushed on Black communities in the United States more than other groups, according to The New York Times. Black smokers choose menthol cigarettes like those from Newport and Kool 85% of the time, three times more than white smokers, according to the FDA. The cigarettes are more addictive and harder to quit, researchers have found, likely because the menthol has a cooling effect that makes it easier to inhale more nicotine.
The proposed ban would likely include flavored cigars and cigarillos, but not e-cigarettes.
A ban would not require congressional approval, according to the Washington Post, but the FDA would need to make the proposal publicly available and consider any comments on the change. It would also likely be challenged in court by pro-tobacco groups.
PEOPLE has contacted the FDA for comment.
A group of ten civil rights and Black health groups recently sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging the Biden administration to start the process of banning menthol cigarettes.
"The predatory marketing of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products must be stopped and we should all recognize this as a social justice issue, and one that disproportionately impacts youth and communities of color," the April 16 letter, signed by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the NAACP and the National Medical Association, said.
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They emphasized that the tobacco industry has pushed menthol cigarettes on Black communities for years, handing out free samples in neighborhoods and sponsoring events. The tobacco industry has denied doing so, and Kaelan Hollon, a spokesperson for Reynolds American, which makes Newport cigarettes, told the Post that they market the product "to reach a wide and diverse audience of adult smokers, regardless of their ethnicity or gender, with the intention of persuading smokers to choose one of our brands rather than a brand of one of our competitors." She also said that menthol cigarettes should not be regulated differently than other cigarettes.
Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Post that "a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would do more to reduce youth tobacco use and health disparities than any other single action the federal government has ever undertaken."
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who worked under the Trump administration, had previously said he would propose a ban on menthol products, but did not before leaving. The House of Representatives has also voted for a bill that would ban all flavored tobacco products, but it did not come to the floor in the Senate.