The FDA is planning to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavors of cigars, and Biden approves

menthol cigarettes popular
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  • The FDA is planning to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavors of cigars.
  • The agency said the move would save lives by helping people quit and preventing new users.
  • Tobacco company Altria said it shares the goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes, “but prohibition does not work.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavors of cigars, saying the measure will help people quit smoking and keep young people from starting.

In a statement Thursday, the agency said the move “will help save lives,” though it did not specify when the ban would begin.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said the ban would help current smokers to quit the habit, keep young people from starting, and decrease health disparities in communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are more likely to use the tobacco products.

“We believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.,” Woodcock said in the release.

Menthol flavoring covers up the harshness of tobacco products and makes them more appealing to young people, the FDA said.

In a briefing following the announcement, Woodcock said the idea to lower nicotine levels in all cigarettes was “still under consideration.”

“It’s on the table but we have not finished deliberations on that matter,” she said on the call.

Woodcock also said President Joe Biden has been fully supportive of the move to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavors of cigars.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra also hailed the move.

“This science-based decision reflects the Biden Administration’s commitment to improve the health of all Americans and to tackle health disparities in our most marginalized communities. Tobacco-related death and disease must become a part of America’s past. These public health measures will save lives,” Becerra said in a statement.

Read more: The FDA’s decision to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout could pay off in the long run

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, which makes several kinds of menthol cigarettes, told Insider in a statement: “We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work. Criminalizing menthol will lead to serious unintended consequences.”

“Youth smoking rates, including menthol cigarettes, are at historical lows, and science and evidence does not support such a ban. We will review FDA’s announcement and continue to engage in this multi-year process with a focus on the science and evidence,” the statement said.

British American Tobacco did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the matter. Shares of both tobacco companies fell Thursday, according to Markets Insider data.

Banning menthol cigarettes in the US could help nearly 1 million smokers quit and prevent 633,000 deaths, the FDA said, citing two separate studies.

Of those numbers, about 230,000 African Americans would quit smoking and another 237,000 African American deaths would be averted, the studies showed.

“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally.”

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Biden’s menthol cigarette prohibition is so obviously stupid and wrong it boggles the mind

Joe Biden sunglasses getty
President Joe Biden speaks on the North Lawn of the White House on April 27, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Biden claimed to regret how his drug warrior legacy led to mass incarceration.
  • But the prohibition will lead to harsher policing in Black communities.
  • It’s like the president hasn’t learned a thing from the failed and evil War on Drugs.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Joe Biden clearly hasn’t learned a thing from the failed and immoral War on Drugs – a disaster that he played a huge part in creating.

The president on Thursday ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes, a plan first reported on Wednesday by the Washington Post. Since it’s a regulatory change, Congress has no say in the matter.

Anti-smoking advocates have lobbied for the ban for years, arguing correctly that the tobacco industry has targeted menthol sales at young people and Black communities.

Let’s be clear: Big Tobacco is a callous, lying cabal that exists to profit off addicting people to a deadly product. But cigarettes aren’t going to be made illegal overnight, just a certain flavor of cigarettes.

The ban will make menthol a prized commodity, a sought-after product whose artificial scarcity will inevitably drive up its price on non-legal markets.

A flavor will now be a crime, making criminals out of people who want some mint flavoring with their toxic tar.

This idea isn’t just dumb and wholly unnecessary – it’s plainly destructive to the communities it’s supposed to be helping.

Biden’s sorry (but not sorry) about being a prohibitionist

Throughout the 2020 Democratic primary, Biden was badgered by his rivals into apologizing for authoring several of the Drug War’s most punitive and socially destructive laws.

Those laws contributed to mass incarceration, the militarization of police, black markets controlled by violent criminals, as well as millions of broken homes and shattered lives.

Biden thought his heart was in the right place: Drugs are bad, m’kay.

But the Biden-backed Drug War was just a hyper-violent and hyper-expensive reboot of alcohol Prohibition – a colossal failure, so corrupting of society at almost every level, that Congress amended the Constitution to get rid of it.

As a candidate, Biden sheepishly claimed to have evolved from the days when he was boasting of legislation that he said did “everything but hang people for jaywalking.” As the Democratic nominee, Biden promised to work on decriminalizing marijuana and removing it from the DEA’s list of Schedule I controlled substances.

Biden’s now been in the White House for more than three months, and Vice President Kamala Harris says the administration is simply too busy to fulfill its promise..

But apparently Biden isn’t too busy to use his power to ban menthol cigarettes.

This demonstrates either Biden’s promise was hollow, or that he’s too stuck in his drug warrior ways to see how it’s a certainty that criminalizing a popular product in the Black community is going to be an abject disaster of human carnage.

Eric Garner protest
People participate in a protest to mark the five year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner during a confrontation with a police officer in the borough of Staten Island on July 17, 2019 in New York City.

The madness of prohibition

Albert Einstein almost certainly didn’t say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But it’s still a good line.

Biden enacting a prohibition that instantly creates a black market and room for more unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounters with police, should be seen as the plainly dumb move that it is.

The “unintended consequences” cannot be called “unforeseen.” We can see them plain as day.

We’ve done prohibition before, several times. To expect a different result – the eradication of the banned product without unneeded violence and imprisonment – meets Einstein’s apocryphal definition of insanity.

And there’s almost no doubt the weight of this ban will fall predominantly on the Black community. One need only look at the police killing of Eric Garner, who in 2014 was the target of an NYPD crackdown on loose cigarette sales. That crackdown was deemed necessary because illicit loosie sales don’t collect New York’s high tobacco taxes – which were enacted, in part, to curb smoking.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is under no illusions about what the menthol ban means.

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and members of Congress, the ACLU noted that about 80% of Black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, and warned the ban “will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color,” lead to “constitutional policing,” and “prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction.”

While acknowledging that it would be best if no one smoked, the ACLU also seemed to question the necessity of the menthol ban, citing government data showing “cigarette use is down to 2.3% from 13% in 2002” and that among underage African-Americans it’s down to 1.1%.

There is simply no ethical or scientific reason for Biden to impose a move as severe as a total ban on menthol cigarettes.

Prohibition isn’t just ineffective, it’s wrong. And its architects and adherents almost always regret it eventually.

Biden once prided himself on being more of a Drug War and Law and Order hardass than Ronald Reagan. If his mea culpas from the 2020 primary were sincere, he’d be keeping his promises to wind down the war on marijuana, not starting the war on menthols.

When menthol cigarette crackdowns inevitably come to Black communities, Biden shouldn’t be allowed to claim he couldn’t have possibly foreseen the unintended consequences.

The president should know better about prohibition, but he doesn’t.

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