Menthol cigarette ban postponed by Biden officials

FILE - In this photo illustration, packs of menthol cigarettes sits on a table, November 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A long-awaited menthol cigarette ban has been once again postponed by President Joe Biden’s administration. 

The Food and Drug Administration has attempted several times to get rid of menthol but has faced pushback from Big Tobacco, members of Congress and competing political interests in the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. 

Biden’s decision to indefinitely delay the ban could avoid a political backlash from Black voters in November. 

The mint-flavored cigarettes are overwhelmingly used by young people and minorities, particularly Black smokers, 85% of whom smoke menthols. That compares to about a third of white smokers.

With both Biden and former President Donald Trump vying for the support of Black voters, the ban's potential impact has been scrutinized by Republicans and Democrats heading into the fall election.

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The FDA says menthol masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit. 

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, an exemption negotiated by industry lobbyists. The act did, though, instruct the agency to continue to weigh banning menthol.

Any menthol ban will take years to implement and will likely face legal challenges from tobacco companies.

In a statement Friday, Biden’s top health official gave no timeline for their delay, saying only that the administration would take more time to consider feedback, including from civil rights groups.

The White House has held dozens of meetings in recent months with groups opposing the ban, including civil rights organizers, law enforcement officials and small business owners. Most of the groups have financial ties to tobacco companies.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.