The American Lung Association is intensifying its efforts to compel the White House to promptly enact regulations banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars across the United States.
In a scathing edition of its annual State of Tobacco Control report, released on Wednesday, the association called on the Biden administration to finalize the proposed rules. The report emphasizes that failure to do so will lead to increased death and disease resulting from smoking, particularly affecting historically marginalized Black communities.
The report underscores the role of menthol cigarettes in facilitating smoking initiation and making it harder to quit by reducing smoke harshness and cooling the throat. Researchers estimate that implementing a regulation prohibiting menthol cigarettes could potentially save around 654,000 lives over the next four decades, with a significant impact on Black smokers who are disproportionately more inclined to use menthol products.
In October, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted rules to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, aiming to ban the manufacturing and sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. However, there has been no progress in the OMB’s review process since then. The lack of action is deemed disappointing, with the report accusing the White House of prioritizing politics and tobacco industry profits over public health.
Proponents of the regulation had hoped for finalization by January 20, providing a year for implementation before potential changes in the White House administration. Concerns arise over potential delays, legal challenges from tobacco companies, and the divisive opinions within Black leadership regarding the ban’s impact on communities.
Menthol cigarettes have become a pivotal issue for President Joe Biden, especially considering the upcoming election and concerns about support from Black voters. Civil rights leaders express worries about potential criminalization and increased police interactions resulting from a menthol cigarette ban, while others, including the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, support the ban as a measure to save Black lives.
The FDA’s proposal focuses on banning the manufacturing and sale of menthol products without targeting individual smokers. Despite concerns, the proposed regulation emphasizes that it does not include a prohibition on individual possession or use.
Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the US, with the report urging the Biden administration to prioritize lifesaving policies and counter the tobacco industry’s delaying tactics.
The State of Tobacco Control report evaluates state and federal policies, highlighting both successes and shortcomings. While federal mass media campaigns receive an A grade, federal regulation of tobacco products, coverage for tobacco cessation in health care plans, and tobacco tax policies receive lower grades.
The report outlines five key actions for the Biden administration and Congress, including finalizing FDA tobacco product reviews, maintaining CDC funding for smoking cessation, passing the Helping Tobacco Users Quit Act, and removing illegal tobacco products from the market.
The urgency to swiftly finalize rules on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars remains a top priority among these key actions. The report emphasizes the need for continuous efforts to reduce tobacco use and prevent a rise in deadly interactions, especially among the youth. The evaluation of state policies reveals disparities, with some states receiving low grades and others, such as California and Massachusetts, leading in comprehensive tobacco control measures.
Public health groups, including the American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, join forces in urging the White House to prioritize the ban on menthol cigarettes. Despite opposition from the tobacco industry, these groups stress the importance of swift action to prevent further harm caused by tobacco use.