The Biden administration has pledged to make eliminating menthol cigarettes one of its key priorities. However, as Politico reported, anti-tobacco activists say the effort isn’t moving fast enough, and that’s led them to ultimately file a lawsuit.
The desire to prohibit menthol-flavored cigarettes stems from a 2011 study produced by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health which found that they are disproportionately consumed by the Black community.
“Blacks had the highest rate of past month menthol cigarette use between 2004 and 2010,” the survey revealed. “Almost one in five Blacks smoked menthol cigarettes each year.”
“The 2010 rate for Blacks (19.1%) was close to triple that of whites (6.5%) and Hispanics (7.8%), and five times that of Asians (3.6%).”
That data led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to announce in April that it had plans “within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars.”
“Our commitment to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars is at the top of this Administration’s tobacco regulatory priorities,” an FDA spokesperson told Politico.
Legal fights brew
However, the outlet noted in a Sunday report that the FDA is now locked in a court battle with anti-smoking groups who have complained that such products are still on the market.
Phillip Gardiner, who serves as co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of events.
“We’re pissed off, frankly,” Gardiner said. He added, “We can’t be stretching this out for another decade or so.”
However, the FDA is also under a court-imposed deadline to review all tobacco products introduced since 2007. That particular deadline was missed in September and it is now under pressure to finish the task as well as come up with a new menthol policy to the Biden administration’s liking.
Joelle Lester, a director for commercial tobacco control programs with the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, explained that the agency is struggling to complete both tasks at once.
“The FDA has put itself in a position of having sort of a tension between its action on menthol cigarettes and other kinds of flavored tobacco products — most specifically e-cigarettes,” Lester said, according to Politico.