On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced its plan to ban menthol cigarettes in response to a 2013 citizen petition advocating the ban of mint-flavored cigarettes, the Washington Post reports.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 20 million Americans smoke menthols.
Phillip Gardiner, the co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, sued the FDA to push for the ban.
“Smoking rates are going down, but people’s use of menthol is not,” Gardiner said. “Who’s being left in the market are menthol smokers. They’ve been predatorily marketing these products to the African American community.”
Menthol is the last allowable flavor for cigarettes. According to the FDA, menthol cigarettes have been disproportionately used by youth, people of color and low-income communities.
The vast majority of Black smokers favor menthol cigarette brands, and Black men currently have the highest rates of lung cancer in the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other criminal justice groups warned the White House in a letter that the ban on menthol cigarettes could have “serious racial justice implications.”
“[S]uch a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction. A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement,” the ACLU wrote.
The groups say there is a better approach to banning menthol cigarettes that avoids criminalization.
“We strongly support the FDA and other policymakers continuing with harm reduction policies emphasizing education for adults and minors, cessation, well-funded health care for communities of color, and other measures that push tobacco use down without putting criminal justice reform at risk,” the groups said in the letter.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Bobby Rush say that the FDA has a duty to ban harmful cigarettes.
“These failures to protect children, particularly African American children, from a path to addiction are inexcusable,” the trio said.