Senate Democrats call on White House to finalize menthol ban


A group of Senate Democrats on Friday called on the Biden administration to publish two final rules banning menthol-flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars as soon as possible, amid reports the move been delayed over political concerns. 

“Simply put, delays in finalizing these rules will only bring more addiction and death,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young. 

The letter was signed by 22 Democrats, and led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Edward Markey (Mass.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). 

It was also backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the NAACP. 

A potential ban on menthol cigarettes has been discussed across multiple administrations for more than a decade, but the lawmakers noted past attempts at regulation have been met with an “alarming trend of stalled action” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  

The rule was first proposed by the Biden administration in 2022. The final version was initially slated for August release but then wasn’t sent to the White House for final regulatory review until October, with the aim of releasing it by the end of the year.  

“Despite these repeated overtures, the FDA has yet to issue a final rule on these topics, much less begin enforcement—which the FDA has been clear would only fall upon manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Last month, the White House delayed the release until at least March 2024, reportedly amid concerns that enacting the ban in an election year would spur a voter backlash, particularly among the Black community.  

The delay was quietly announced in a regulatory update about two weeks after top administration officials met with tobacco industry lobbyists including former Democratic lawmakers, as well as high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump and a top executive from the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.  

In a statement promoting the senators’ letter, the NAACP urged the administration to reject what they called bad faith arguments coming from the tobacco industry.  

“Our message remains clear — if the Biden Administration truly cares about Black lives, they will act swiftly to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products,” said Patrice Willoughby, NAACP Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Impact. 

“We reject Big Tobacco selling death in our communities because health is integral to the wellbeing of Black communities. Enough is enough. The Administration must stand up to Big Tobacco and take action now.” 

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