The Biden administration is reportedly poised to announce a ban on menthol cigarettes – a product known to be popular among Black consumers – and now finds itself facing considerable backlash from social justice advocates who decry the move as racist, as Breitbart reports.
According to CBS News, a ban on mint-flavored cigarettes is expected to come Thursday, which is the court-ordered deadline for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to a citizen petition calling for such a prohibition. Health advocates have long encouraged the removal of menthol cigarettes from the market due to research revealing that they have disproportionate, negative impacts on the health of minority communities and youth.
Roughly 20 million American smokers routinely opt for the menthol varieties, according to data from the FDA, and research from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that roughly 70% of all Black smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 use them as well, as Fox News noted. Black adults also purchase menthol cigarettes in much higher percentages than other racial demographic groups, the CDC statistics reveal.
In a statement urging the ban, American Medical Association President Susan R. Bailey, M.D. explained, “For generations, tobacco companies have promoted menthol cigarettes to the African American community, preying especially on African American youth. The results are clear and grim,” adding, “this action is long overdue.”
Despite the health benefits many medical advocates suggest a ban on menthol cigarettes may offer Black Americans, the Biden administration has been warned by other activist groups that the effects of such a prohibition may actually exacerbate other perceived racial disparities, as Fox News explained.
The American Civil Liberties Union, together with dozens of other signatories, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra stating that though a ban on menthol cigarettes is “no doubt well-intentioned,” it was likely to have “serious racial justice implications.”
The social justice advocates claimed that “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…A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with law enforcement.”
Signers of the letter made reference to the highly-publicized police-involved deaths of Eric Garner – who was accused of selling “loosie” cigarettes contrary to law – and of Michael Brown – suspected of stealing cigarillos prior to his fateful encounter with law enforcement – in calling for an approach that would “avoid solutions that will create yet another reason for armed police to engage citizens on the street based on the pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety.”
Members of the Biden administration are perhaps learning the hard way that regardless of the good intentions they believe undergird a given policy, the broader hierarchy of racial grievance mongering often gets in the way, perpetuating a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dynamic.