The Biden administration may delay its controversial ban on menthol cigarettes again, with administration officials citing political pressure that could harm the president’s shot at reelection.
According to The Washington Post, the administration is expected to reveal on Wednesday that it plans to finalize new federal rules to remove menthol cigarettes from the U.S. market by March.
The rules were first expected to be finalized in August, but the administration later revealed that they hoped to complete them by January. However, they noted that legal challenges would likely stall the ban from going into effect for several years.
Three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the delay would come amid pressure from lobbyists and critics who warned that the ban may anger Black smokers and negatively impact Biden’s prospects in 2024.
They also admitted that the process to finalize the ban could be further delayed because of reelection pressures.
Democrats have repeatedly expressed concern that Biden may see lower turnout from Black and young voters in the upcoming election cycle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at a far higher rate than White Americans. Among Black smokers, 81% say they choose menthol. Over 18.4 million Americans revealed they smoked menthol cigarettes in 2019.
Supporters of the ban have claimed that removing menthol cigarettes from U.S. stores could save hundreds of thousands of American lives. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have warned the prohibition could lead to the formation of a black market. Such a result, detractors say, may push police to target Black smokers disproportionately.
However, officials have stressed that enforcement of the ban will focus on distributors, retailers and manufacturers, rather than consumers.
The White House has been working behind the scenes to review the plan written by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency is also considering a ban on flavored cigars and new restrictions on nicotine found in cigarettes.
The FDA has explored a ban on menthol cigarettes for over a decade and initially proposed rules in April 2022. They told The Post that they are committed to quickly issuing tobacco rules for menthol but can only fully discuss their contents once published.
At the state level, California and Massachusetts have already banned the sale of menthol cigarettes.