Health Advocates Disappointed Biden’s Decision to Delay Menthol Cigarette Rules

Health Advocates Disappointed: Biden’s Decision to Delay Menthol Cigarette Rules

The Biden administration abruptly announced Friday that it will postpone regulations prohibiting menthol cigarettes, despite significant opposition to the move.

In a statement, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra stated that his agency would not seek to adopt the regulations, citing resistance from civil rights organizations. Since they were initially suggested by the HHS Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the restrictions have provoked a heated controversy among health advocates, civil rights organizations, and business interests.

“This rule has garnered historic attention and the public comment period has yielded an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement,” he said in a statement. “It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time.”

Established 2 Years Ago

The statement comes exactly two years after the FDA first suggested the regulations, clearing the way for a historic ban on menthol cigarettes, which the administration described as a “critical” component of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot campaign. The FDA also stated at the time that the prohibition would “reduce the appeal of cigarettes” and have serious health consequences.

After months of public discussion, the FDA sent the regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final approval. However, officials dragged their feet in implementing the laws and missed repeated self-imposed deadlines, raising concerns among health activists that the administration would alter course.

“Unfortunately, the likelihood of this administration enacting these rules is diminishing with the passage of time, and ACS CAN is urging the administration not to pass up the opportunity to make a historic gain in the fight against cancer,” American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network CEO Karen Knudsen said in a statement on Friday, ahead of Becerra’s announcement.

‘Top Priority’

OMB declined to comment, referring Fox News Digital back to Becerra’s comments.

An FDA spokesman also stated that the agency is still committed to developing tobacco product regulations for menthol in cigarettes and flavorings in cigars. During the public comment period, associations representing convenience stores, police, consumers, and minority groups warned the administration that a ban on menthol cigarettes could create an illegal market for the product while punishing small business owners and minorities, who are the product’s primary consumers.

Minority groups, such as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement and the nonprofit National Action Network, which was founded by civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, argued that banning menthol cigarettes while not restricting non-menthol cigarettes “puts a microscope on minority communities.”

White House Gatherings

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, National Action Network, National Newspaper Publishers Association, and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump met with Becerra, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, and White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden in November to discuss the proposal, according to White House documents.

The White House also held talks with other stakeholders, such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, and the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). “The USHBC applauds President Biden for his leadership in delaying the menthol ban, recognizing the unintended consequences it would have had on convenience store sales nationwide and the livelihoods of over 600,000 workers,” Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the US Hispanic Business Council, told Fox News Digital in a statement.

“Implementing a ban would have not only been ineffective but would also risk disproportionately criminalizing people of color, the very communities where menthol cigarettes are consumed,” Palomarez said in a statement. “We are delighted that the President has heard our concerns and we offer ourselves up as a resource to develop a comprehensive approach to public health.”

Dollars and Cents

According to NACS, the law would have resulted in a drop of $72,285 in non-tobacco miscellaneous sales and $160,107 in tobacco product sales for the average convenience store across the country. The association estimated that the measures would have cost the convenience store industry $2.16 billion in sales. Furthermore, government watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) claimed the administration’s actions Friday validated its worries, which it raised last week when it sued HHS for concealing regulatory papers.

“This announcement appears to validate the grounds for our complaint filed a few weeks ago about the potential menthol cigarette ban. It is not a good look for public health authorities to rely on polling over science. It’s also a big reason why faith in our public health professionals has plummeted,” said PPT Director Michael Chamberlain. “This only heightens the need for transparency into what’s really driving decisions at the FDA.”


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