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Menthol ban could HURT black communities by leading to over policing, ACLU says


The American Civil Liberties Union and a number of other civil rights group warned that President Joe Biden’s move to ban menthol cigarettes could actually harm communities of color. 

‘A menthol cigarette ban would disproportionately impact communities of color, result in criminalization of the market, and exacerbate mass incarceration,’ a letter sent this week to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra warned. 

It was signed by the ACLU, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and 24 other related groups.   

President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce a proposal to ban menthol cigarettes, according to The Washington Post

The Biden administation can unilaterally ban the mint-flavored smokes, but has to go through a process with the Food and Drug Administration

The Biden administation can unilaterally ban the mint-flavored smokes, but has to go through a process with the Food and Drug Administration

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration was expected to announce the proposal to ban menthol cigarettes soon, which would set off a process with the Food and Drug Administration that could take years, but would be applauded by antismoking and other civil rights groups. 

Antismoking groups, along with some civl rights allies, have pressured the federal government to make the move because they say the tobacco industry has aggressively targeted black communities when pushing the mint flavored smokes. 

But the ACLU, drug legalization and other groups have countered that the move had the potential to create ‘large underground, illegal markets.’ 

‘In addition, underground cigarette sales would be a massive law enforcement problem for states, counties, and cities, since all states treat unlicensed sale of tobacco products as a crime – usually as a felony punishable by imprisonment,’ the letter said. ‘In the end, tobacco policy will no longer be the responsibility of regulators regulating, but police policing.’

‘Our experience with alcohol, opioid, and cannabis prohibition teaches us that that is a policy disaster waiting to happen, with Black and other communities of color bearing the brunt,’ the letter continued. 

The letter asked HHS to better fund youth education, smoking cessation programs and healthcare programs for communities of color instead. 

‘We agree with those who want to see even more progress in addressing the health needs of communities of color and support policies that would achieve those goals without threatening the progress we have begun in making criminal justice reform a reality,’ the letter said. 

Menthol is a compound found in mint plants and has been added to cigarettes since the 1920s.  

The Post reported that the Biden administration is also looking to include menthol and other flavored, mass-produced cigars as well, including the smaller cigars that are popular with young people. 

Menthol cigarettes have long been considered the gateway cigarette for young people when they start smoking.  

The Biden administration can unilaterally ban flavored cigarettes and cigars without the help of Congress. 

The FDA must put out proposed rules and receive public comments. 

There will likely be court challenges brought by the tobacco industry against the move as well. 

The FDA must respond to a lawsuit by Thursday after the agency was sued in June by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and Action on Smoking & Health for not responding to a citizen petition asking that menthol cigarettes be banned.   

Biden has made racial equity part of his agenda, including on health outcomes. 

Health groups point to studies that show menthol cigarettes are harder to quit than the non-flavored versions and point to numbers showing that black Americans smoke them at three times the rate of white Americans.  

Data from the FDA counts 19.5 million people as menthol cigarette smokers. 

Among African-American smokers, 85.8 per cent smoke menthols. 

The Food and Drug Administration says that 19.5 million people smoke brands of menthol cigarettes like Marbloro Menthols

The Food and Drug Administration says that 19.5 million people smoke brands of menthol cigarettes like Marbloro Menthols 

That’s in comparison to 46 per cent of Latino smokers who smoke menthol, 39 per cent of Asian smokers who smoke menthol and finally, 28.7 per cent of white smokers who smoke menthol.   

‘The predatory marketing of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products must be stopped and we should all recognize this as a social justice issue, and one that disproportionately impacts youth and communities of color,’ said a letter written to Biden’s Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra signed by representatives from 10 civil rights and black health organizatios, the Post said.  

The letter spoke of moves made by the tobacco industry including menthol giveaways at gatherings in black neighborhoods.  

Biden, like his predecessor President Donald Trump, doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol.  

Massachusetts is the only state to have banned the sale of menthol cigarettes in the US. 

California could be the next when it goes to a referendum later this year.

Other states including New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have cracked down on tobacco products by banning the sale of flavored e-ciagarettes.

The administration is also reportedly planning to push tobacco manufacturers to decrease the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, according to The Wall Street Journal

Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, according to health experts, but makes cigarettes more addictive. 

 It can be reduced in cigarettes by either genetically modifying tobacco plants or removing nicotine from tobacco leaves during the manufacturing process. 

The tobacco moves come at the same time the country is moving toward legalization of marijuana, which can also be smoked. 

President Joe Biden has resisted calls from leaders of his party, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to fully legalize the drug and instead wishes to make moves on the federal level to decriminalize it and leave legalization efforts to the states. 

So far, 34 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form, including recreational use, medical use and sales

So far, 34 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form, including recreational use, medical use and sales



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