Lawsuit seeks to force ban on menthol cigarettes| Trending Viral hub

By Mateo Perrone

WASHINGTON – Anti-smoking groups sued the US government on Tuesday over a long-awaited ban on menthol cigarettes, which has been dormant at the White House for months.

The lawsuit is the latest effort to force the government to ban menthols, which are used disproportionately by black smokers and young people. It comes amid growing concerns from advocates that the federal plan could be derailed by election-year politics.

President Joe Biden’s health officials initially aimed last August to release the rule removing the mint flavor. Late last year, White House officials said they would take until March to review the rule. Three nonprofit groups, including Action on Smoking and Health, filed their lawsuit in federal court in California after a March deadline passed.

“Due to the defendants’ inaction, tobacco companies have continued to use menthol cigarettes to target youth, women, and the Black community, all to the detriment of public health,” the groups state in their complaint.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration has spent years developing the plan to phase out menthol, estimating it could prevent between 300,000 and 650,000 smoking deaths over several decades. Most of those preventable deaths would occur among black Americans.

Like all major federal regulations, the plan must get final approval from the White House.

The FDA’s previous efforts on menthol have been thwarted by pushback from the tobacco industry or by competing policy priorities among various administrations. The latest delay comes as Democrats express concern about Biden’s prospects in a rematch against former President Donald Trump.

White House officials have held dozens of meetings with groups opposed to the menthol ban, including civil rights advocates, business owners and law enforcement officials. Some suggested that a rule targeting menthols could suppress Biden’s turnout among Black voters. In almost all cases, groups opposing the ban receive financial support from tobacco companies.

In recent months, supporters of the plan have sought to assure the White House that the menthol ban will not hurt Biden’s re-election chances.

“If Black lives really matter, then we must end the sale of menthol cigarettes and do it now,” Dr. Carol McGruder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership said in a statement. McGruder’s group is among those suing the FDA and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.

A lawyer who helped file the lawsuit said the government will have about two months to respond.

A 2020 lawsuit filed by the same groups boosted the FDA’s work on menthol, alleging that the agency had “unreasonably delayed” action against the flavor.

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, an exemption negotiated by industry lobbyists. However, the law directed the agency to continue weighing the possibility of banning menthol.

The persistence of the taste has infuriated smoking advocates, who point out that research indicates that the numbing effect of menthol masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit.

More than 11% of American adults smoke, with rates roughly equal among white and black populations. About 80% of black smokers (and most teens who smoke) use menthol.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this story.

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