White House Delays Menthol Cigarette Ban

AP file photo
Menthol cigarettes are seen at a store in San Francisco in May 2018.

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House officials will take more time to review a sweeping plan from U.S. health regulators to ban menthol cigarettes, an unexpected delay that anti-tobacco groups fear could scuttle the long-awaited rule.

Administration officials indicated on Dec. 6 the process will continue into next year, targeting March to implement the rule, according to an updated regulatory agenda posted online. Previously, the rule was widely expected to be published in late 2023 or early January.

The Food and Drug Administration has spent years developing the plan to eliminate menthol, estimating it could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking deaths over several decades. Most of those preventable deaths would be among Black Americans, who disproportionately smoke menthols.

Previous FDA efforts on menthol have been derailed by tobacco industry pushback or competing political priorities across several administrations. The latest delay comes amid lingering worries from some Democrats about U.S. President Joe Biden’s prospects in a rematch against Donald Trump.

Anti-smoking groups have spent years backing the effort. And some warned on Dec. 6 that the proposal, which would give cigarette companies one year to phase out the flavor, could be held up indefinitely.

“Any delay in finalizing the FDA’s menthol rule would be a gift to the tobacco industry at the expense of Black lives,” said Yolanda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We urge the administration to keep its promise and issue a final rule by the end of this year.”

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that wasn’t banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products. The flavor’s cooling effect makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, driving menthol’s popularity. An estimated 85% of Black smokers buy menthols.