Black Community Divided Over FDA's Plan To Ban Menthol Cigarettes

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plans to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes on Thursday (April 28), and the Black community is divided on the issue.

Those in favor of the proposed ban argue that it will diminish chronic disease and death, while its opponents say the cigarette ban could lead to more policing issues, The Hill reports.

Either way, Black smokers will be the most affected by the FDA's proposal. According to the New York Times, 85 percent of all Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to only 29 percent of white smokers.

The NAACP believes the ban will boost Black health after years of being targeted by the tobacco industry.

Portia White, NAACP Vice President of Policy and Legislative Affairs, said in a statement, “We feel that the tobacco industry has targeted the black community for more than 50 years. Frankly, they have. They’ve done a marvelous job with marketing, they’ve been the best at it."

White continued, “It would just be wrong, totally wrong, if the FDA would allow them to continue to do this, really.”

However, prominent Black figures Al Sharpton and Ben Crump believe the ban on menthol cigarettes may have "unintended consequences."

“We have not said we opposed it, what we said was we’d like to see a study, a commission to study how they deal with the unintended consequences before they impose a ban,” Sharpton told The Hill.

Last week, the families of police brutality victims Eric Garner, Trayvon Marton, and George Floyd wrote a letter urging the Biden administration to see how the ban may have criminal justice implications on the Black community.

Sharpton said, “This is how her son [Garner] got killed."

“How could anybody ignore interactions between police [and the Black community] if they’re increased because of a ban?” Sharpton added, “If a policeman sees a guy standing on the corner smoking a Kool, he’s asking ‘Where did you get that from?’ and that will lead to interaction.” 

Elliot Boyce, director of the New York State Police Employee Assistance Program, said the FDA's ban wouldn't stop menthol cigarettes from being illegally sold.

Boyce said, “I would think individuals would say, ‘Why would I take the chance of selling illegal drugs like crack and cocaine, heroin, any other illegal drug when I can sell cigarettes by the truck load and only be hit with a fine?’”

However, questions have surfaced about ties between tobacco companies and political leaders opposing the ban, The Hill reports. Although Sharpton has denied any allegations, RJ Reynolds, who makes Newport, America's biggest menthol cigarette brand, is reportedly sponsoring his activism work.

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