WASHINGTON, D.C. — A proposed menthol ban could be on hold after fierce opposition from a variety of fronts, including trade groups and critics who believe a ban could harm President Joe Biden's popularity with some Black smokers ahead of an election year.
The Biden administration indicated the finalization of federal rules that would lead to menthol cigarettes' departure from the market will be pushed to next March, reported The Washington Post. Officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told the news outlet that the process could potentially be delayed further than that.
[Read more: Small Operator Trade Groups Rally Against Proposed Menthol Ban]
In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted a final product standard that would prohibit the use of menthol in cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and heated tobacco products to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review. Health officials say that menthol increases the addictiveness of tobacco products by making smoke easier to inhale and enhancing the effects of nicotine.
The move came more than a year after the FDA first announced its intention to ban menthol in order to help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 81 percent of Black smokers chose menthol cigarettes in 2019, a significantly higher rate than white smokers. Some civil rights and health groups say this is the result of a history of purposeful marketing to Black communities. Following the announcement of the proposed ban, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights activists claimed that a menthol ban would prompt an underground market, leading law enforcement disproportionately target Black smokers, according to news outlet.
Officials in favor of the menthol ban state that law enforcement would target manufacturers, distributors and retailers, not individual smokers.
[Read more: Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over Proposed Menthol Ban's Impact on Small Business]
However, last month U.S. Reps. Roger Williams (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, and Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) wrote to the White House OMB and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs urging them to consider the significant economic impacts on small entities and the fueling of illicit markets that would result if the proposal is implemented, noting that even if consumers switch to nonmenthol cigarettes purchases at c-stores, small tobacco companies would still see lost revenue from menthol cigarettes.
While the Biden administration's pending regulatory agenda seeks to finalize menthol ban rules by March, sources said, the agenda is not binding, and the White House could finalize new tobacco rules in advance of that date.