White House delays ban on menthol cigarettes, leaving anti-smoking advocates worried

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House officials will take more time to review a sweeping plan for U.S. health regulators ban menthol cigarettesAn unexpected delay that anti-tobacco groups fear could spoil the work long awaited rules,

Administration officials indicated Wednesday that the process will continue into next year, targeting March for implementation of 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 develop a plan Eliminating menthol is estimated to prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking-related deaths over several decades. Most of the preventable deaths will occur among black Americans, who disproportionately smoke menthol.

FDA's previous efforts on menthol have been derailed due to tobacco industry opposition or competing political priorities. multiple administrations, The latest delay comes between lingering worries From some Democrats about President Joe Biden's chances in a rematch against Donald Trump.

Anti-smoking groups have spent years supporting this effort. And some warned Wednesday that the proposal, which would give cigarette companies a year to phase out flavors, could be put on hold indefinitely.

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Yolanda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "Any delay in finalizing the FDA's menthol rule would be a gift to the tobacco industry at the expense of Black lives." “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 was not banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products. The cooling effect of the flavor makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, increasing the popularity of menthol. An estimated 85% of black smokers purchase menthol.

FDA officials sent their final version of the regulation to the White House Office of Management and Budget in October, typically the final step before a rule is issued.

But the White House has agreed to hold dozens of meetings with groups opposing the rule, including civil rights advocates, business owners and law enforcement officials. In almost all cases, groups opposing the ban have received donations from tobacco companies.

More than 60 meetings have been scheduled on the rule with budget office staff, with discussions set to last until January, according to a government website. Records show that so far only three meetings have taken place with health groups.

The meetings highlight that the issue is drawing the attention of prominent African American leaders and senior members of the Biden administration.

Civil rights lawyers were involved in the November 20 meeting. ben crump and Kendrick Meek, a former congressman who is now a lobbyist at a law firm whose clients include the tobacco company Reynolds American. More than two dozen government officials, including Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, also joined the virtual meeting.

The meeting was requested by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which has received funding from cigarette manufacturers, including Reynolds. The group is running ads in local Washington media warning that the menthol ban will damage relations between police and the communities they serve.

The FDA and health advocates have long dismissed such concerns, noting that FDA's enforcement of the rule would only apply to companies that make or sell cigarettes, not individual smokers.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2023 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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