Public Health Concerns Clash With Political Considerations In Menthol Cigarette Ban Debate

The Biden administration’s indefinite delay of its proposed ban on menthol cigarettes has highlighted the complex interplay between public health concerns and political considerations. While data from the CDC shows that smoking cigarettes is the biggest preventable cause of death for Americans with nearly half a million people dying from illnesses related to smoking and over 41,000 dying from issues related to second-hand smoke each year the administration’s decision to put the ban on hold has raised questions about its motives.

Some analysts speculate that the delay may be related to concerns over President Joe Biden’s decreasing popularity among Black voters a key constituency that overwhelmingly supported him in the 2020 election. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had previously estimated that in 2018 there were approximately 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers aged 12 and up in the U.S. with particularly high rates of use among youth young adults African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups.

However, the proposed ban has faced opposition from within the Black community with leaders arguing that it could lead to an expansion of the illicit cigarette market and increased racial profiling of Black individuals. In a statement explaining the delay U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra cited the “historic attention” the rule has garnered during the public comment period particularly from “various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement.”

The clash between public health concerns and political considerations has left the future of the menthol cigarette ban uncertain. As the Biden administration weighs its options it will need to balance the potential public health benefits of the ban with the political risks of alienating a key constituency in the lead-up to the 2024 election.