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President Biden’s administration is expected to announce this week a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes in a move that will leave many Americans without their preferred flavor.
The new policy would disproportionately impact black smokers. Menthol cigarettes are used by more than three-fourths of African-Americans who smoke. About a quarter of white smokers prefer menthol rather than unflavored cigarettes.
Anonymous Biden administration officials confirmed the timing of the announcement to the Washington Post.
Leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus have pushed the idea. Then-caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) wrote in an op-ed last year: “As we continue to push to protect Black lives, we must put an end to one of the most pernicious destroyers of Black health and lives: deadly menthol cigarettes.”
It’s unclear how long menthol users would have to brace for the transition. Other recent reports indicated that the administration is exploring a separate policy that would require tobacco companies to lower the nicotine content in cigarettes.
About 13.7 percent of American adults were smokers as of 2018, a dramatic decline from more than 40 percent in the mid-1960s. Higher taxes and educational campaigns about health consequences like lung cancer and heart disease played a role.
In the past decade, many smokers transitioned to electronic cigarettes, drawn by their lack of stench and preliminary research that indicates they’re lower-risk than combustible tobacco.
Last year the Trump administration’s Food and Drug Administration banned e-cigarette flavors aside from tobacco and menthol, arguing that candy and fruit flavors could hook teens into addiction, even though many adults said they too enjoyed the flavors. A 2019 law raised the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 in all states.
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