• April 18, 2024

Califf Pushing U.S. Menthol Ban: Politico

 Califf Pushing U.S. Menthol Ban: Politico
Photo: FDA

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf has privately asked friends and public health experts to lobby the White House to ban menthol cigarettes, according to Politico. Califf reportedly fears that President Joe Biden might abandon the policy to avoid backlash from Black voters before the upcoming elections. The minority communities are core to Biden’s voter base.

“Fundamentally, these bold actions are about saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year,” Califf said in 2022, when the FDA first proposed the ban. “Prohibiting menthol in cigarettes would mean over 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the United States would have a better shot at quitting.”

In October 2023, the FDA finalized its menthol ban policy and submitted it for approval. However, the White House has not given it the go ahead due to pushback from a handful of influential Black industry allies who warn the ban would fuel an underground market, worsen over policing in minority communities and have a negative effect on Biden’s standing among Black voters.

Advocates of the ban fear that the delay means politics will override the urgency of the ban and that Biden will delay implementation until after the November presidential election.

“We’re now in a political season, and it’s only going to get tougher for them to do it,” said Yolonda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “All the delays are to the benefit of the tobacco industry. That’s just more time they have to keep them on the street, that much more time to addict kids.”

Recently, Califf has been raising the issue internally in addition to soliciting outside help. He has enlisted senior White House officials and Health and Human Services officials to help advocate for the ban. Califf has also personally pressed senior Biden aides on the decision.

“Everybody’s done what they could do,” said a senior administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations. The White House declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing rules before they’re finalized.

“The FDA remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars as exponentially as possible, said Michael Felberbaum, FDA spokesperson.

“In the last year of this administration, so many things happen with a lot of pressure to get things finished, and sometimes political pressure comes into play,” said Califf, who has also sought to restrict flavored cigars and wants to mandate lower nicotine levels in all cigarettes and other tobacco products. “A lot of considerations have to be navigated.”

The FDA had initially hoped to finalize the menthol ban before the end of 2023. Now, the FDA has set a new deadline of March for a final rule.