Biden admin’s move to ban menthol cigarettes to protect minorities slammed for discriminating against blacks

As the Biden administration and the FDA move to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in the United States, civil rights groups are objecting claiming that the move could disproportionately harm minority communities.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says the administration is aware of the warnings and takes them seriously. The products are especially popular among black smokers.

The announcement came Thursday that the FDA is working to ban menthol cigarettes by classifying them as a flavor, which has already been banned in cigarettes. The classification would also apply to flavored cigars.

The move is meant to supposedly address health disparities present in minority communities. The FDA cites that black Americans tend to suffer disproportionately from being addicted to cigarettes and the effects of long-term use.

(Video Credit: Reuters)

“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. commented in a statement.

Woodcock stated that the ban would “launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups warned that the ban could lead to over-policing and further racial discrimination against black people. The insinuation is that police could target black smokers after the ban is put in place.

Jean-Pierre replied to reporters on the issue and claimed that the ban would not lead to the criminalization of individuals that smoked these products. The intended target would instead be businesses.

“Let’s be clear here, if implemented these rules affect only commercial activity. And so FDA does not regulate the possession of tobacco products by individuals for personal use,” she asserted. “And this rule would not make individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes a crime, nor change enforcement standards.”

She was grilled on a possible “political backlash” over the ban by those such as civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. He contends that a ban placed on menthol cigarettes would target black smokers.

“We are aware of that, and we take that seriously the concerns that have been raised about discriminatory policing, and so addressing racial bias in policing is a priority as you’re all aware of,” she responded.

“We were just talking about the George Floyd Policing Act for this administration,” she added. “This is why we strongly support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and we need legislation to directly address police reform, even as we regulate tobacco industry practices that harm Americans.”

The ACLU, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and 24 other civil rights groups signed a letter that was sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this week in advance of the FDA’s announcement. They warned that the proposed ban would have “serious racial justice implications.”

They further noted that the ban could lead to black-market sellers and buyers of menthol cigarettes. And that is where the police come in according to the groups.

“A menthol cigarette ban would disproportionately impact communities of color, result in criminalization of the market, and exacerbate mass incarceration,” they declared.

“In addition, underground cigarette sales would be a massive law enforcement problem for states, counties, and cities, since all states treat unlicensed sale of tobacco products as a crime – usually as a felony punishable by imprisonment,” they claimed. “In the end, tobacco policy will no longer be the responsibility of regulators regulating, but police policing.”

“Our experience with alcohol, opioid, and cannabis prohibition teaches us that that is a policy disaster waiting to happen, with black and other communities of color bearing the brunt,” the groups asserted.

“A number of police encounters resulting in tragic deaths are linked to police enforcement of tobacco laws: Eric Garner, killed by a police chokehold, was illegally selling ‘loosie’ cigarettes, and Michael Brown was killed after being suspected of stealing a box of cigarillos,” the letter posited.

“Even in the case of George Floyd, police were called to investigate a counterfeit bill used to purchase cigarettes,” they argued.

“We agree with those who want to see even more progress in addressing the health needs of communities of color and support policies that would achieve those goals without threatening the progress we have begun in making criminal justice reform a reality,” the letter added.

FDA data reports that 19.5 million Americans are menthol cigarette smokers. Among black smokers, 85.8 percent smoke them. Latino smokers include 46 percent who smoke menthol-flavored cigarettes while 39 of Asian smokers and 28.7 percent of white smokers partake of them.

Antismoking groups, leftist politicians, and some civil rights groups are calling this a social justice issue and claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively targeted black communities.

Although the FDA hopes that the ban will be implemented within a year, it faces a long-drawn-out process. It could potentially be years before it actually takes effect.

The proposed ban does not appear to be popular. Political analyst John Stossel tweeted: ‘”Benefit!?” By banning something people like? Only politicians, credulous reporters, and safety totalitarians think that way. This just creates a new black market that will needlessly send MORE black Americans to prison.”

Others chimed in on Twitter:

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