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Menthol Cigarette Ban Delayed Due to ‘Immense’ Backlash, Biden Administration Says

The Biden administration said Friday it would again delay a decision on a regulation to ban menthol-flavored cigarettesciting the “historical attention” and “immense amount of feedback” on the controversial proposal by the Food and Drug Administration.

“This rule has received historic attention, and the public comment period generated an immense amount of response, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movements,” the Secretary of Health and Human Services said. Social Services, Xavier Becerra, in a press release.

The White House had already missed its self-imposed deadline to decide on regulations by March. The rule had been stuck in an interagency review process.

A senior administration official said it was difficult to set a deadline for the delay, citing lingering disagreements after “months of difficult discussions.”

The official said they are asking for more time to hear from outside groups, particularly on the civil rights side.

They acknowledged that high rates of black Americans were dying from the use of menthol cigarettes, which prompted the FDA’s initial push for a ban, but said there were concerns about of civil rights as to how such a rule would be applied.

The American Civil Liberties Union is among groups that have lobbied for months against a ban on menthol cigarettes, warning that it would “disproportionately impact people of color” and “prioritize criminalization over health and risk reduction in the republic”.

“It is clear that there are still more conversations to be had, and it will take much longer,” Becerra said in his statement.

The White House has so far held more than 100 meetings on the proposal with dozens of outside groups for and against the regulations, ranging from convenience store associations to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Public health groups have for months expressed frustration over repeated delays in the FDA’s proposal, which agency officials hoped would be a critical part of a federal initiative to dramatically reduce smoking rates in the USA.

Advocates fear the delays could push the rule into a window that would allow opponents to overturn the rule using the Congressional Review Act during the next presidential term.

“The administration’s inaction allows the tobacco industry to continue to aggressively market these products and attract and addict new users,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, in a press release.

At a House Appropriations Committee hearing this month, FDA Administrator Robert Califf said the ban remained one of his agency’s top priorities and said he hoped it would would be lifted by the end of the year.

“I’m a cardiologist who practiced in North Carolina for 35 years. I’ve probably seen more people die from tobacco-related illnesses than almost any doctor because I was an intensivist who took care of terminal stage of the disease is a top priority for us,” he said.

–Nancy Cordes contributed reporting.

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