Biden Admin meets with health and civil rights leaders amidst delay in menthol cigarette ban


United States: The officials of the Biden Administration, following the decision to postpone a ban on menthol cigarettes, this week met with notable figures in the fields of public health and civil rights.

The conference was not explicitly scheduled for the public, but it came after officials held a similar call with lobbyists from the tobacco industry, including former MPs, who opposed the proposed ban last month, noted The Hill.

More than two weeks later, the White House officially delayed finalizing the ban until at least March amid intense lobbying from critics.

President of the United States – Joe Biden | Credits: Bloomberg

Officials like Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, and White House Domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden gathered for a Virtual meeting on Tuesday, which was requested by the campaign for Tobacco-free kids.

Attendees said that the meeting was set up following the announcement of the delay and after public health organizations questioned how tobacco lobbyists and industry-affiliated groups managed to have a meeting with high-ranking administration officials.

This virtual meeting was attended by many public health and civil rights leaders. This meeting includes David Satcher, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the first Black US surgeon general; former HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan; Yolanda Lawson, President of the National Medical Association; Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, as well as leaders of the boards of the American cancer society Cancer action network, the American Lung Association, and the American Heart Association.

OMB’s role in regulatory measures raises eyebrows

When it comes to regulatory measures, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must meet with any interested party to go over concerns with a rule that is currently being reviewed. Top officials are not frequently present at the discussions, which are essentially listening sessions.

Since October, the OMB had numerous discussions regarding the policy with external parties, such as law enforcement officers, civil rights organizations, and retailers. Records show that nearly all the meetings have been with anti-ban organizations.

“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and our partners requested this meeting to underscore to the White House the overwhelming support for the menthol rule from leading civil rights, public health, and medical organizations across the country,” Yolonda Richardson, president and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement to The Hill.

“Our organizations are united in the view that any delay in issuing the final rule is unnecessary and at the expense of Black and other lives. We urge the Administration to reject the tobacco industry’s lies and keep its promise to issue a final rule this year,” Richardson further said.

Concerns about the White House giving in to pressure and delaying the rule indefinitely have been raised by public health organizations, particularly considering President Biden’s reelection campaign. 

In its regulatory agenda, the White House established a new deadline of March 2024, originally scheduled to be released in August, which was then rescheduled for the end of the year.

Decade-Long Effort for Menthol Ban Stirs Debate Within Black Community

 Over a decade in the works, a menthol ban would be among the FDA’s most significant rules since it started regulating tobacco in 2009. A measure like this might prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to health professionals and proponents of tobacco control, especially among Black smokers.

Packs of Menthol cigarettes

According to the FDA, an estimated 85 percent of Black Smokers use menthols, compared to 30 percent of White smokers. 

However, the proposed ban has divided some well-known Black lawmakers and community members, which critics claim is a sign of a long-standing industry strategy to target Black people and work with leaders to cause discord.