Biden’s New Ban Divides Black Americans

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

( – Recent efforts by the Biden administration to ban menthol cigarettes are facing significant opposition from key Black and civil rights groups, creating a rift among organizations that are often allies. Groups like the NAACP and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) find themselves on opposing sides of the debate.

The tobacco industry, accused of specifically targeting the Black community with menthol products, has historically courted and funded Black-led organizations and leaders to mitigate criticism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, menthol-flavored cigarettes made up over a third of all U.S. cigarette sales in 2021. Mignonne Guy, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, pointed out the high percentage of Black smokers preferring menthol cigarettes is due to targeted marketing efforts by the tobacco industry.

Despite a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus supporting the ban, the Biden administration recently postponed its implementation, citing concerns over its impact on Black smokers and potential political repercussions. This delay followed meetings between administration officials and tobacco industry lobbyists, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, and a top executive from Sharpton’s NAN.

Public health groups are concerned about the influence of the tobacco industry, especially among certain Black leaders. Yolanda Richardson of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids recently convened a meeting with administration officials and civil rights and public health leaders to urge the release of the rule.

Opponents of the ban argue it could lead to an unregulated market of menthol cigarettes and increased policing in communities of color. Sharpton’s NAN, for example, has consistently opposed menthol bans, citing potential criminalization in the Black community.

Ebonie Riley of NAN highlighted concerns about over-policing following a potential ban, while public health advocates have noted Sharpton’s long-standing ties with RJ Reynolds, a major menthol cigarette manufacturer.

Other groups, including the ACLU and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, have also lobbied against the ban, focusing on law enforcement concerns.

Supporters of the ban argue that it will not target individuals but only manufacturers and sellers of menthol cigarettes. They stress the importance of public health over political calculations, especially given the high number of Black Americans affected by tobacco-related illnesses.

The proposal to ban menthol cigarettes, which has been under discussion for over a decade, has seen delays across multiple administrations. Advocates for the ban are planning events to emphasize its importance and encourage the White House to take action, despite concerns that electoral considerations may overshadow public health needs.

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