WASHINGTON, D.C. — A coalition of 21 attorneys general submitted a comment letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, urging the Biden Administration to complete its review and implementation of a plan to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
In the letter, the coalition specifically highlights calls by civil rights and public health groups to remove menthol tobacco products from the marketplace in order to protect public health and address the unequal impact of these products on minority communities and other vulnerable populations, including young people, the letter said.
"Overwhelming scientific evidence — including the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA)] own findings — leaves no doubt that menthol cigarettes have far-reaching negative impacts on public health," wrote Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown. "Masking the flavor of these products does not mask the harm to users' health and wellbeing, and I support eliminating these products from the marketplace."
The latest broadside joins a growing number of competing and often contradictory voices weighing in on the potential ban. C-store industry associations like NACS and the Convenience Distribution Association have criticized the potential new rule, while tobacco companies continue to push a lobbying effort that would either delay or prevent implementation altogether, as reported by The Hill.
Tobacco companies add menthol to cigarettes and cigars as a flavor enhancer. According to a release from Brown's office, the flavoring often attracts young smokers and can make it much easier for them to develop an addiction to nicotine. Menthol cigarette use is also higher, when compared to other groups, among LGBTQ+ smokers, smokers with mental health problems and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.
Menthol cigarettes are also in heavy use in Black communities, with approximately 81% non-Hispanic Black adult smokers using menthol cigarettes. The Hill noted that both the Congressional Black Caucus and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council have come out in strong support of the ban.
In light of the ongoing debate, the coalition letter urged the Biden Administration to finalize its review of the FDA's proposed rules while also fighting back against what the attorneys general view as unproven claims that the proposed menthol ban will increase illegal trade or criminalize individual purchases, possession, or use of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this particular administrative action, the fight over tobacco regulation will likely continue, with California's ban on flavored tobacco products now coming into full effect and the crackdown against illegal e-cigarette and vape products continuing.