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White House Delay in Finalizing Menthol Cigarette Rule Benefits Big Tobacco at the Expense of Black Lives

Statement of Yolonda C. Richardson, President and CEO, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 06, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden Administration’s delay in issuing a final FDA rule prohibiting menthol cigarettes allows the tobacco industry to continue profiting at the expense of Black lives. This delay prioritizes politics over saving the 45,000 Black lives lost to smoking each year. There is absolutely no reason to further delay a policy that has been studied for more than 12 years, is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence, and will save hundreds of thousands of lives. We urge the Administration to keep its promise and issue a final rule by the end of this year.

It is especially disturbing that this delay comes just two weeks after the tobacco industry and its army of lobbyists met with top officials at the White House. The White House should not be duped by an industry that has repeatedly lied to the public, is lying today about menthol cigarettes, and is responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans. The tobacco industry and its paid spokespeople have waged a cynical fearmongering campaign with false claims that the rule will result in more over-policing in Black communities, all so the industry can continue to prey on Black people, kids and other vulnerable communities with menthol cigarettes. These claims must be rejected: The FDA has made it crystal clear that the rule will apply to manufacturers and retailers and will not make it illegal for individual consumers to possess or use menthol cigarettes.

This delay betrays the Administration’s own top priorities. There is no other single action the Biden Administration can take that would do more to advance health equity and achieve the goals of the President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. As the Administration has repeatedly stated, smoking causes 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States and is “the biggest single driver of cancer deaths in this country.” If the White House is serious about health equity and the Cancer Moonshot, and about improving the health of Black Americans, it must issue and implement a final rule to eliminate menthol cigarettes without further delay.

The scientific evidence shows that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. For decades, the tobacco industry has marketed these products to Black communities, causing devastating and disproportionate harm to the health of Black Americans. Largely because of menthol cigarettes, Black Americans have a harder time quitting smoking and die at higher rates from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke. Research shows that prohibiting menthol cigarettes will save up to 654,000 lives within 40 years, including the lives of 255,000 Black Americans.

The FDA’s rule is supported by a wide range of organizations, scientists and elected officials – including Black leaders and organizations. Supporters include members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, other Black civil rights and health organizations, 100 Black Men of America Inc., the U.S. Conference of Mayors and over 300 faith leaders from across the country. A coalition of more than 100 public health, social justice, medical, parent, community and other organizations voiced strong support in comments submitted to the FDA.

It has already taken far too long to eliminate menthol cigarettes. The Biden Administration must stand up to the tobacco industry and issue this lifesaving rule by the end of the year.

Visit our website to learn more about why menthol cigarettes must be eliminated.

The delay in finalizing the menthol rule was included in the Biden Administration’s updated regulatory agenda released today. The agenda sets a new target date of March 2024 for issuing a final rule, but media reports indicate it could be delayed further. Previously, the Administration had set a target date of August 2023 for issuing the final rule and the FDA repeatedly stated its intent to issue the final rule by the end of this year.