Anti-smoking groups sue US government over delayed menthol cigarette ban.

On Tuesday, anti-smoking organizations initiated legal action against the US government, targeting the Biden administration for its delay in implementing a ban on menthol cigarettes. These groups argue that the prolonged inaction exacerbates the targeting of vulnerable communities, particularly Black smokers, by the tobacco industry.

Menthol, a flavor additive naturally found in plants like peppermint, is disproportionately used by Black smokers, partly due to targeted marketing strategies employed by tobacco companies and its appeal to younger demographics.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially proposed banning menthol in April 2022. Originally slated for publication by August of the same year, the final rule was delayed, with subsequent target dates also missed. This failure to act prompted the lawsuit, which seeks to compel the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enforce the ban.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Oakland, California, the continued availability of menthol cigarettes enables tobacco companies to target youth, women, and the Black community, thereby undermining public health efforts.

Menthol remains the sole allowable flavor under a 2009 law granting the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products.

The plaintiffs, including the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health, and the National Medical Association, stress the urgency of banning menthol to mitigate the devastating impact of smoking-related deaths, particularly within minority communities.

While neither HHS nor the FDA have responded to requests for comment, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the disproportionate impact of menthol cigarettes on Black smokers, with approximately 81% of Black adult smokers using menthol varieties compared to 34% of white adult smokers.

The financial stakes for tobacco companies are significant, with major players like Altria and British American Tobacco deriving substantial revenue from menthol products.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs emphasized the benefits of a menthol ban for the Black community and criticized the Biden administration for succumbing to misinformation perpetuated by the tobacco industry.

This legal action marks a renewed effort by anti-smoking advocates to hold the government accountable for protecting public health, particularly among marginalized populations, against the harmful effects of menthol cigarettes.