The Biden administration is expected to announce this week its intention to ban menthol cigarettes, two people familiar with the plan told CBS News.
The proposed ban on the mint-flavored cigarettes is likely to be announced on Thursday, according to an administration official, which is the day the Food and Drug Administration was ordered by a court to respond to a 2013 citizen petition advocating the ban.
Public health organizations like the American Medical Association favor the move to ban menthols because of data showing these cigarettes disproportionately impact the health of racial minorities and young people.
In total, approximately 20 million Americans smoke menthols, according to the FDA.
Advocates of the ban told CBS News the decision about whether to move ahead with the ban was ultimately President Biden’s.
Banning menthol cigarettes has Democratic support in Congress, too. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Bobby Rush, recently argued the FDA has a “duty” to ban menthols. “These failures to protect children, particularly African American children, from a path to addiction are inexcusable,” they told the administration.
Last year, the House passed a bill banning all flavored e-cigarettes and menthols, but the legislation did not clear the Senate.
This expected move would not the first time flavored cigarettes have faced bans, since the FDA banned other flavored cigarettes in 2009.
The FDA declined to comment on Wednesday when asked by CBS News about the expected ban.
The anticipated ban will not be put in place immediately, since it’s subject to a potentially years-long rulemaking process, and then could face legal challenges from the industry.
The expected ban was first reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday.
There remain some concerns about the possible unintended consequences of a menthol cigarette ban.
In a letter obtained by CBS News on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and dozens of other criminal justice groups warned the White House and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra that a ban on menthol cigarettes would have “serious racial justice implications.”
Citing the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and George Floyd, the ACLU argued “[s]uch a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction. A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
“There is a better approach that avoids criminalization,” the groups say in the letter, “We strongly support the FDA and other policymakers continuing with harm reduction policies emphasizing education for adults and minors, cessation, well-funded health care for communities of color, and other measures that push tobacco use down without putting criminal justice reform at risk.”