Black smokers will not be targeted in the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, the agency vowed. Its move to ban the smoking products is targeted at the manufacturers, not individual consumers, following concerns raised by advocates who said the ban could create additional law enforcement encounters for Black people.
“If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers,” FDA officials said in a news release Thursday (April 29). “The FDA will work to make sure that any unlawful tobacco products do not make their way into the market.”
According to a report by NBC News, 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, and Black health experts have worked to get the product banned given the health inequities in Black communities across the country. From tobacco companies’ aggressively marketing menthol cigarettes to Black people, and companies offering cheaper prices for menthols in Black neighborhoods, health experts say these practices contribute to higher rates of death from smoking-related diseases, even though Black people smoke fewer cigarettes than white people.
“We’re being liberated from the harm of mentholated tobacco products,” Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health & Equity told the outlet. “This is the beginning of that,” Jefferson said, adding that the ban “should have been done over a decade ago.”
Before the ban goes into effect, there is a whole years-long rules process the FDA must go through, including making law enforcement agencies aware of what the ban does and who it’s targeting.
“We would make sure that law enforcement agencies at all levels understand that when it comes to the enforcing of such a rule, were it go final, that our jurisdiction ends with manufacturers, distribution, sale, import, retailers, and that we do not enforce against possession,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products said during a press conference on Thursday (April 29).
Some health advocates say that along with the ban, groups should also make health and well-being a priority in Black communities.
“It will be important to pour back into these communities we’re trying to protect,” Asti Jackson, a professor and researcher at the Yale School of Medicine said.
“If people have the proper resources they may not feel like they need to smoke to get through the day. How do we make the world a more equitable place, where people have the resources they need and don’t have to use drugs to get through the day? That’s the bigger question,” Jackson said. “But, we’re trying to place a Band-Aid on an issue.”
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