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Lawsuit filed to pressure for ban on menthol cigarettes after delays by Biden administration

By MATTHEW PERRONE (AP Health Writer) WASHINGTON (AP) — Anti-smoking organizations took legal action against the U.S. government on Tuesday regarding a long-awaited prohibition on menthol cigarettes, which has been pending at the White House for months. The lawsuit is


WASHINGTON (AP) — Anti-smoking groups took legal action against the U.S. government on Tuesday regarding the long-awaited ban on menthol cigarettes, which has been stalled at the White House for months.

The lawsuit is the latest attempt to compel the government to prohibit menthol cigarettes, which are used more by Black smokers and young people. Advocates are worried that election-year politics could derail the federal plan.

Health officials under President Joe Biden originally aimed to publish the rule eliminating the minty flavor last August. In late last year, White House officials announced they would need until March to review the rule. Following the missed March deadline, three nonprofit groups, including Action on Smoking and Health, filed their lawsuit in a federal court in California.

The groups stated in their complaint, “Because of defendants’ inaction, tobacco companies have continued to use menthol cigarettes to target youth, women, and the Black community — all to the detriment of public health.”

A spokesperson for the White House was unable to immediately comment on the lawsuit when contacted on Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration has spent years developing the plan to eliminate menthol, estimating it could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking deaths over several decades, with most of those deaths being among Black Americans.

Similar to all major federal regulations, the plan requires final approval from the White House.

Previous FDA efforts on menthol have been thwarted by pushback from the tobacco industry or competing political priorities across several administrations. The latest delay comes as Democrats express concerns about Biden’s chances in a rematch against former President Donald Trump.

White House officials have had numerous meetings with groups opposing the menthol ban, including civil rights advocates, business owners, and law enforcement officials. Some suggested that a ban on menthol could reduce Biden’s support among Black voters. In most cases, groups opposing the ban receive financial support from tobacco companies.

In recent months, supporters of the plan have sought to reassure the White House that banning menthol will not negatively impact Biden’s chances of re-election.

Dr. Carol McGruder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership stated, “If Black lives truly matter, then we must end the sale of menthol cigarettes and do it now.” McGruder’s group is among those suing the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

A 2020 lawsuit by the same groups prompted FDA’s actions on menthol, claiming that the agency had unreasonably delayed taking action against the flavor.

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not prohibited under the 2009 law granting the FDA authority over tobacco products, due to an exemption negotiated by industry lobbyists. However, the act did instruct the agency to continue considering whether to ban menthol.

The persistence of the flavor has frustrated anti-smoking advocates, who cite research indicating that menthol’s numbing effect masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit.

More than 11% of adults in the United States smoke, and the rates are about the same for white and Black people. Around 80% of Black smokers, as well as most teenage smokers, prefer menthol cigarettes.


AP Writer Zeke Miller contributed to this story


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is completely responsible for all the content.

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