Biden admin backing down on menthol ban as he bleeds black voters ahead of election

Remember how concerned the Biden administration was with the health of black smokers?

Well, with the presidential election fast approaching, it appears the urgent need to help black people has taken a backseat to getting their votes. Once again, the White House has put a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes on hold, and the timing is raising questions about President Biden’s commitment to “health inequities.”

In 2021, the FDA announced it was going to ban menthol cigarettes for the benefit of black Americans, who, the agency said, are most likely to smoke them.

“According to the FDA, nearly 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to just 30% of white smokers,” NBC News reports. “Black men have the highest lung cancer death rate in the U.S. and both Black men and women are far less likely to be diagnosed with the disease at an early stage, when it is often more treatable, than white Americans.”

In 2022, the FDA detailed its rules for the proposed ban.

“Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf previewed the announcement in congressional testimony, saying the proposal would reduce disease and death by helping smokers quit and stopping younger people from starting,” NBC News reported at the time.

It’s funny how elections can change things.

In December, the White House delayed its scheduled ban on menthol cigarettes.

The proposed ban “generated concerns that Black smokers will become the targets of aggressive police tactics, although some Black leaders, top lawmakers and government officials dispute that and say that tobacco companies are financing and fueling those fears,” The New York Times reported.

The Times noted then that the “politics of banning menthol cigarettes are delicate for Mr. Biden.”

“He cannot afford to appear as though he is condescending to Black voters, who have long been a key Democratic constituency,” according to the outlet. “Recent polling shows that Black voters are increasingly disconnected from the Democratic Party, and even some of Mr. Biden’s allies have expressed concerns that a lack of enthusiasm among African Americans will keep them from the polls.”

In a Friday statement, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the ban would be delayed once again.

“There are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time,” Becerra said, according to NBC News.

Anti-smoking and health advocates were quick to voice their “dismay.”

“The American Lung Association’s President and CEO Harold Wimmer said the organization is ‘deeply dismayed’ that the White House keeps delaying action,” NBC News reports.

“Every day that President Biden fails to finalize these rules, he loses an incredible opportunity to reduce the death and disease associated with tobacco use,” Wimmer said in a statement. “Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes would have helped eliminate the dramatic health inequities in who uses tobacco products in the United States.”

“Two full years after releasing proposed rules backed by extensive scientific evidence — and more than a decade since the FDA began examining menthol cigarettes — the administration has failed to take decisive action to remove these deadly, addictive products from the market,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “The administration’s inaction is enabling the tobacco industry to continue aggressively marketing these products and attracting and addicting new users.”

Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, was more direct.

“If the Biden Administration believed that Black lives matter, they would have ended the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes,” McGruder said in a statement. “Instead, they appear to be caving to Big Tobacco which has racistly targeted our community for decades.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Black Americans will die in the years to come because of today’s inaction,” she said. “Shame on you, President Biden!”

Melissa Fine

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