Not all groups are on board, however. The ACLU and several other organizations wrote to the country’s top health officials urging them to reconsider.
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter says. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
The letter calls the proposed ban “well intentioned,” but said any effort to reduce death and disease from tobacco “must avoid solutions that will create yet another reason for armed police to engage citizens on the street based on pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety.”
Instead of a ban, the organizations said, policy makers should consider increased education for adults and minors, stop-smoking programs, and increased funding for health centers in communities of color.
The Biden administration, however, pressed the point that banning menthol will bring many positives. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD said in a statement that banning menthol “will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.”
The FDA cited data showing that in the first year or so after a ban goes into effect, an additional 923,000 smokers would quit, including 230,000 African Americans. Another study suggests that 633,000 deaths would be averted, including 237,000 Black Americans.
Woodcock added that, “Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the [Biden] administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S..”
The FDA estimates that 18.6 million Americans who are current smokers use menthol cigarettes, with a disproportionately high number being Black peopleMenthol cigarette use among Black and Hispanic youth increased from 2011 to 2018, but declined for non-Hispanic White youth.
Flavored mass-produced cigars and cigarillos are disproportionately popular among youth, especially non-Hispanic Black high school students, who in 2020, reported past 30-day cigar smoking at levels twice as high as their White counterparts, said the FDA. Three-quarters of 12-to-17-year-olds report they smoke cigars because they like the flavors. In 2020, more young people tried a cigar every day than tried a cigarette, reports the agency.