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NNPA President Discusses Menthol Ban Delay with CNN

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “On December 9, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told Victor Blackwell, Anchor and Correspondent of CNN, “The ban will have negative consequences in the Black community. From my long years as a civil rights activist, I’m against all forms of racial profiling and racial targeting. Bans do not work. We are calling for a Racial Impact Study. The FDA did not study the racial consequences of this new proposal. We want to save lives in the Black community from disproportionate health, but we also want to save lives from police brutality. We don’t want another Eric Garner…”

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Dr. Benjamin Chavis, President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, discusses the repercussions of the proposed ban on menthol tobacco with CNN’s Victor Blackwell.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, discusses the repercussions of the proposed ban on menthol tobacco with CNN’s Victor Blackwell.

“We must have a Racial Impact Study before a ban is passed.”

By Black Press USA

The Biden-Harris administration will not announce a decision to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco until March 2024 or later. The administration says it will continue meeting with groups in the coming months to understand more about the unintended consequences of the ban.

On December 9, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told Victor Blackwell, Anchor and Correspondent of CNN, “The ban will have negative consequences in the Black community. From my long years as a civil rights activist, I’m against all forms of racial profiling and racial targeting. Bans do not work. We are calling for a Racial Impact Study. The FDA did not study the racial consequences of this new proposal. We want to save lives in the Black community from disproportionate health [impacts], but we also want to save lives from police brutality. We don’t want another Eric Garner. A ban is not the answer; we need more education and treatment facilities to reduce smoking. To target the product preferred by the African American and Latino community is going to cause disparities. I want to see harm reduction done in an appropriate way, not in a way that’s racially targeting Blacks and Latinos.”

Racial Impact Study

According to letters from Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nation’s leading nonprofit advocating for criminal justice and drug policy reforms that will make communities safer and more just, here are reasons for requesting a Racial Impact Study:

  • “The Committee on Law and Justice of the National Research Council of the National Academies (NRC) should assess the social justice impact a ban on menthol cigarettes would have on underserved, underrepresented, and historically discriminated communities. To craft sound policy recommendations, past administrations have relied on such reports as the 2015 NRC’s Committee on Law and Justice issued a report at the FDA’s request entitled “Understanding the U.S. Illicit Tobacco Market: Characteristics, Policy Context, and Lessons from International Experiences,” which looked at the various implications the illicit tobacco market has on domestic production, taxation, public safety.
  • “Request that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security conduct a comprehensive study on the implications an illicit menthol cigarette market would have on public safety. This study should be a necessary and informative part of the FDA’s inter-agency decision-making process. It is no secret that the Mexican Cartels have established sophisticated smuggling routes from Mexico and into major U.S. cities for the distribution and sale of illicit drugs like fentanyl. We {LEAP} believe that these same routes would be used to smuggle what would become illegal menthol cigarettes. Illicit markets not only open doors for more crime but also eliminate safeguards put in place by the FDA, the regulatory agency, to ensure and protect what goes into the manufacturing, production, and quality control of cigarettes.”

Reactions

Public health advocates have criticized the Joe Biden administration for delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes, which they say endangers the health of numerous Americans.

Groups have informed the Administration of the criminalization of a menthol ban that could result in “mandatory minimum sentences, revocation of parole, fines, the loss of one’s right to vote, or even deportation, among other criminal legal consequences,” said National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association are groups that have met with White House representatives, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. The administration says it has not met with all groups that have a stake in the rule and will continue to do that over the coming months.

In opposition to the ban, the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) launched a #SupportBlackFarmers petition, “Black farmers should not have to deal with the economic consequences of a biased government that always takes into account a predominately white-led viewpoint on what should be done in the Black community, our community—what we should smoke, what we should eat, and what we should grow. It is always under the guise that it is in the “best interest” of the Black community and for our health and well-being, even though there has been little done to address the disparities and inequities within our healthcare system. Harm reduction – not prohibition is the better policy choice.”

A White House Office of Management and Budget spokesperson said the agency “remains committed” to finalizing the rules “as expeditiously as possible” but did not explain the delay.

“My best guess as to why it has been pushed back is because of the strength of politics related to tobacco in the US. Menthol cigarettes comprise a growing share of the cigarette market. I think the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission is that they now make up 37% of the cigarette market, and so a menthol ban would have significant economic impacts for cigarette companies,” said Dr. Andrea Villanti, deputy director of the Rutgers Institute for Nicotine and Tobacco Studies.

Others have taken to social media to applaud the Administration’s decision.

“Thank you, Mr. President. You are listening to the concerns brought to you by communities of color asking for #NoMentholBan,” NYS Trooper Director Elliot Boyce (Ret.) said in an X post.

Election 2024

At the forefront of the 2024 election, Americans face many issues like public safety, abortion, human rights, the Israeli-Palestinian War, and the unemployment rate for Black Americans which is the highest jobless percentage in the U.S. at 5.8%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Biden’s poll numbers with Black and youth voters, whom he needs to turn out in large numbers in 2024, have been sagging lately.

“I believe that the ill-advised timing of this ban will have a negative impact on how Black Americans vote in 2024,” Chavis told the Washington Post.

Deputy Inspector Corey Pegues (Ret.) proclaims, “I guess the Biden/Harris administration figured out if they lass the ban on menthol, a whole segment of the population might not come out and vote for them! Whatever the reason, I’m glad it gives me more time to talk about the ban. #stoptheban.”

Smoking

A 2020 study showed that while 43% of all adult smokers smoked menthols, more than 83% of Black smokers did. Only about 30% of White smokers chose menthols.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement, “This delay betrays the Administration’s own top priorities. There is no other single action the Biden Administration can take that would do more to advance health equity and achieve the goals of the President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. As the Administration has repeatedly stated, smoking causes 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States and is “the biggest single driver of cancer deaths in this country.” If the White House is serious about health equity and the Cancer Moonshot, and about improving the health of Black Americans, it must issue and implement a final rule to eliminate menthol cigarettes without further delay.”

Overall, adult and youth smoking rates in the U.S. are the lowest they have ever been in public health history. The most smoked cigarette in America is the non-mentholated Marlboro, which would be exempt under the proposed ban. Reports show that Marlboro’s are smoked by more White Americans.

Dr. Chavis, recently named the Duke University Inaugural Environmental Justice and Racial Equity Fellow, told CNN, “In the Black Press, we defend the overall interest of the Black community. We are an advocate for civil rights and racial justice. And we again oppose the ban; this is like stop-and-frisk. You remember when they passed the Crime Bill in 1994, everybody was glamming for it, including some in the Congressional Black Caucus, and look what happened: it had a devasting consequence on Black and Brown communities.”

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