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Tensions Rise as Black and Civil Rights Groups Clash Over Menthol Ban

Battle Over Menthol Cigarette Ban

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Opposition from influential Black and civil rights groups is jeopardizing the Biden administration’s push to ban menthol cigarettes. The controversy highlights a divide between traditionally allied organizations, such as the NAACP and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN).

Tensions Among Allies

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The ban has created tensions among allies, with the tobacco industry accused of targeting the Black community, particularly through menthol products. The lucrative menthol industry accounted for over a third of all U.S. cigarette sales in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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The Targeting of Black Communities

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Accusations of the tobacco industry targeting Black communities, especially with menthol products, have deep roots. The industry is criticized for simultaneously supporting Black-led organizations and civil rights leaders to mitigate criticism.

The Financial Impact of Menthol

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The delay in the menthol ban proposed by Biden affects an industry with significant financial stakes. Menthol-flavored cigarettes contribute substantially to overall cigarette sales, making them a focal point of the ongoing debate.

Marketing Strategies and Community Impact

Credit: Indianapolis – Circa June 2021: Marlboro Menthol cigarettes. The FDA is considering a ban on menthol cigarettes as makers such as Altria and Philip Morris are accused of marketing to Black communities. — Photo by jetcityimage2

Mignonne Guy, an associate professor, emphasizes the deliberate marketing efforts by the industry, alleging that 85 percent of Black smokers choose menthol cigarettes due to a concerted marketing strategy.

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Political Shifts and Support for the Ban

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While there has been a political shift supporting the ban, with the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus backing Biden’s proposal, the White House delayed the plan, citing concerns of unfair targeting of Black smokers and potential impact on the president’s re-election chances.

Industry Influence on Delay

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Public health groups express concern over the industry’s influence on the delay, especially after top administration officials met with tobacco industry lobbyists shortly before the announcement.

Recent Meeting and Public Health Advocacy

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Public health advocates, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, recently met with administration officials to press for the ban’s release. The industry’s access to lobbying efforts just before the delay sparked outrage among health groups.

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Concerns Over Unregulated Markets

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Opponents argue that a menthol ban might lead to an unregulated market for menthol cigarettes and exacerbate over-policing issues, drawing parallels to past campaigns like the war on drugs.

Civil Rights Groups and Menthol Ban Opposition

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Civil rights groups like NAN oppose menthol bans, holding town halls to discuss how such bans may negatively impact the Black community. The group cites concerns over unintended consequences and criminalization.

Historical Ties and Funding Concerns

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Concerns are raised about historical ties between civil rights leaders, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, and tobacco companies. Sharpton’s previous opposition to New York City’s menthol ban is highlighted, along with his group’s financial connections with tobacco companies.

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Uncertain Future and Public Health Advocacy

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The ban’s uncertain future raises questions about the balance between electoral concerns and public health priorities. Advocacy groups, planning a “menthol funeral” to memorialize lives lost to tobacco-related illness, express worries that electoral considerations might overshadow public health imperatives.

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