Lansing mayor calls for Biden to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco

By Kyle Kaminski

January 18, 2024

A coalition of mayors from across the country—which includes Lansing Mayor Andy Schor—is calling on the White House to issue a final rule prohibiting menthol cigarettes.

MICHIGAN—Research shows that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, easier for kids to start smoking, and harder for smokers to quit. Yet, for decades, the tobacco industry has deliberately targeted Black communities with marketing for menthols—and caused disproportionate harm.

That’s the message that mayors from across the country (including Michigan) are trying to drive home to President Joe Biden’s administration this week as they urge the White House to finalize a rule that would effectively prohibit the sale of all menthol-flavored cigarettes nationwide.

“Too many of our young people are getting hooked on smoking,” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said at a teleconference hosted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “If people want to smoke and they’re of a legal age, that’s certainly their right. But these menthol cigarettes have no purpose other than to taste good and to encourage young people to smoke at an early age.”

In June, the US Conference of Mayors, which includes Schor and more than 1,400 mayors from across the country, adopted a resolution in support of a national ban on menthols—specifically because of the clear health risks they pose to Black smokers, who have been shown to die at much higher rates from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke. 

Last month, White House officials announced that they would need more time to review a sweeping plan from federal health regulators to ban menthol cigarettes, targeting March to implement the rule. Previously, the rule was expected to be published by early January.

Advocates now point to Saturday, Jan. 20 as a key date for the decision because the US Food and Drug Administration has said it needs a full year to fully implement the rule. A decision this week could make a menthol ban effective by next year’s Inauguration Day, CNN reports

“We know—and this isn’t contested—that smoking leads to health problems and cancer. And getting our young people hooked on menthols and different cigarettes is just wrong,” Schor said during Thursday’s teleconference. “It’s wrong because it hurts our kids and their health when they’re young and into the future. It’s wrong because it costs much more for all of us through our healthcare system. It’s wrong because it preys on those who are disadvantaged.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the decision to delay a final rule on menthol cigarettes came shortly after the tobacco industry “and its army of lobbyists” met with top White House officials. Schor said Biden’s administration should disregard those corporate interests.

“We’re doing all we can, but our federal officials can and must ban menthol—and they should do it now,” Schor said. “Ignore the big money and big tobacco lobbyists, and do what’s right for our future. … This needs to be done so that we can save our children and save our future.”

The FDA has reportedly spent years developing the plan to eliminate menthol cigarettes, estimating it could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking deaths over several decades. 

Previous FDA efforts on menthol have been derailed by tobacco industry pushback or competing political priorities across several administrations. Anti-smoking groups have spent years backing the effort. And some warned last month that the proposal, which would give cigarette companies one year to phase out the flavor, could be held up indefinitely.

“Any delay in finalizing the FDA’s menthol rule would be a gift to the tobacco industry at the expense of Black lives,” said Yolanda Richardson, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We urge the administration to keep its promise and issue a final rule by the end of this year.”

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that wasn’t banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products. The flavor’s cooling effect makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, driving menthol’s popularity. An estimated 85% of Black smokers buy menthols.

FDA officials sent their final version of the regulation to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in October, typically the last step before a rule is released.

The White House has since agreed to hold dozens of meetings with groups opposing the rule, including civil rights advocates, business owners, and law enforcement officials. In nearly all cases, the groups opposing the ban have received donations from tobacco companies.

“This isn’t Democrat. This isn’t Republican. These are bipartisan mayors from all around our country that are making a statement,” Schor said in a recent video. “Our kids are not going to have tobacco, flavored tobacco, and menthol. We’ll protect our kids from the dangers of tobacco use and make sure that they don’t fall prey to something that’s going to hurt their health.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

READ MORE: Lansing to get 50 new EV chargers with Biden administration funds

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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