President Biden's FDA Is Delaying Menthol Ban Until After the Election Amid Dwindling Black Support

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Remember when the Biden administration announced that it would place a ban on menthol cigarettes? Well, it appears the White House could be close to making such a prohibition a reality.

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The ban is supposedly, and racistly, intended to save black people from themselves, given that menthol cigarettes are popular among African American smokers. However, there are reasons to speculate that President Joe Biden could be slow-walking the process for political reasons.

The proposed prohibition on menthol smokes was introduced about two years ago and was met with criticism from folks on the left and the right.

The regulations, which would broadly ban the product, were first proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) two years ago and have sparked a contentious debate between health advocates and civil liberties and business groups. The FDA has repeatedly missed target dates for finalizing the proposed ban, the latest of which was earlier this week.

"The FDA remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars as expeditiously as possible; these rules have been submitted to the [Office of Management and Budget] for review, which is the final step in the rulemaking process," an FDA spokesperson told Fox News Digital. "As we’ve made clear, these product standards remain at the top of our priorities."

The spokesperson said the agency, which handed the regulations off to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final approval months ago, is limited from discussing the process further since the proposal remains pending. White House spokesperson Kelly Scully declined to comment, also noting the rulemaking process is ongoing.

But the Biden administration's continued delays in finalizing the regulations has caused angst among proponents of banning menthol cigarettes, many of whom have argued such an action is vital for achieving goals laid out in President Biden's "Cancer Moonshot" initiative. The administration was first expected to finalize the ban in August 2023, meaning its delays have stretched more than seven months.

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However, the delay, which has extended seven months past the initial August 2023 deadline, has frustrated those supporting the ban. Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said the “continued inaction is a shocking deference to the tobacco industry.”

Those opposing the ban point out a myriad of flaws. Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Business Council, said the measure "could have had far-reaching economic consequences for convenience stores by cutting 30% of sales and the livelihoods of over 600,000 workers."

Critics have also pointed out that the policy would disproportionately criminalize black Americans while creating a black market for the product.

The continual delays have also raised speculation that Biden could be stalling until after the 2024 election is over because there has been backlash from the black community, a demographic from which the president has already lost a considerable level of support.

But the issue has divided black community leaders and drawn opposition from law enforcement groups.

The Rev. Al Sharpton has come out against the ban, saying it will give police more reason to target black people, though the ban’s advocates point out that he has accepted donations from industry groups.

Gwen Carr, an activist and the mother of Eric Garner, says the ban is inconsistent and racially inequitable. About 81% of black adult smokers used menthol cigarettes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to 34% of white adult smokers.

“Menthol has not killed anyone; it’s nicotine,” she said last year. “If you’re going to ban smoking, don’t make it a racist thing. Ban it all or ban none.”

Garner was killed in Staten Island in 2014 after New York City police officers attempted to stop him from selling single cigarettes, or “loosies,” on the black market and an officer put Garner in a chokehold. Police groups say the ban will create underground demand that they will be tasked with enforcing.

With Biden’s reelection looming in November and his support among black voters in danger, Democratic strategist TJ Rooney argues the president is right to put off the ban until next year.

“People of all race, creeds, and colors know the dangers of smoking,” he said. “My hope is that the big thinkers are equally concerned with explaining the broader picture of what’s at stake in this election. This is a great issue for 2025.”

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Read: Poll: Black Voter Support for Biden Crumbling, 41 Percent Not Even Sure They'll Vote Come November


If the speculation is accurate, delaying the silly nanny-state policy is a smart political move. With Biden’s difficulties in retaining black voters, imposing a measure that would target them wouldn’t exactly help his efforts to win them over.

Of course, this does not address the real problem with this policy. If Biden wins in November, he will have no reason not to impose the ban, which, like most government policies, will cause more harm than the problems it is purported to solve.

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