Two years ago, the Biden administration announced plans to outlaw the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes. Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Janet Woodcock explained the rationale: “FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products”.  What she was clearly saying is that minorities need special protection.

Cigarettes are bad for your health, as with many vices that people enjoy. We don’t think the government needs to make decisions that people can make for themselves when it comes to the vices they choose. But the FDA launched a crusade against menthol cigarettes.

The curious fact that the FDA was not attempting to restrict access to all cigarettes, only the minty ones. Why would this be happening? The answer was that the majority of menthol smokes were purchased by members of the black and Hispanic communities. This presented the government with a unique challenge.

Using this preference data, the administration decided that this minority community needed to be protected against the evils of menthol, and the best way to do that would be to simply outlaw the sale of the product.

Since menthol cigarettes would be available for sale in other countries, just like in Prohibition Days, the ban would undoubtedly create a new business for smugglers and illegal sales. This, in turn, would result in a whole new group of incarcerated people, presumably, black and Hispanic. This would carry on a long tradition of putting people behind bars for using the “wrong” substances.

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But what about all those white folks huddled in the rain outside airports and restaurants, spewing blue clouds of carcinogens into the atmosphere? “No problem”, says the FDA. Since non-menthol cigarettes would stay legal, many of us reached a simple conclusion – that white folks could make their own health decisions, while minorities were incapable of doing so. It did not matter that brown and black smokers preferred these cigarettes, they needed to be controlled for their own good. 

Until a few weeks ago.

That’s when the administration decided to cancel the menthol ban. Indefinitely. Why? Did the FDA realize that their plan was racist? Was the fact that regular smokes would remain available seem unfair? Did members of Congress stand up and say, “This is stupid! We will create laws regarding smoking and the FDA will follow our instruction!” 

No, none of this happened. An election happened.

The excuse given for this policy about-face was expressed by Xavier Becerra, Health and Human Services secretary. He said he received, “an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement,” and that the issue “will take considerably more time.” This pull-back disappointed some authoritarians, including Yolanda Richardson, head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Yolanda said, “This decision prioritizes politics over lives, especially black lives.”

While her sentiments are suspect, Yolanda is on to something. The reason why this ban was canceled was due to the anger it was causing in the minority community. The Biden camp is distressed over the fact that support among black and Hispanic voters has been rapidly dissolving. The WSJ reported, “the plan was delayed as the White House considered its political repercussions.”

The lesson here is that the long-standing claims of the health dangers of smoking menthol cigarettes can be set aside so that the ban doesn’t damage our chances of getting minority votes. This is an astounding and cynical admission. While we believe that the ban is unfair and should never go into effect, the reasons for reversing the ban are disappointing, to say the least.

Others have pointed out that crusades against high-sugar-content soft drinks have resulted in taxes, but not bans. Philadelphia is a good example. The focus of the ‘soda tax’ was not the health of the residents, rather it was designed to raise over ninety million dollars through new taxes. This poses a problem, will Philly become so dependent on these millions that they hope the sales don’t decrease? (If so, they will be disappointed, since raising prices by almost 60 percent will reduce sales by almost 50 percent).

So, Mountain Dew is bad, let’s tax it. Kools kill minorities. Let’s…wait until after we’ve won the election before making the sale of them illegal. Don’t worry about Congress complaining either way – they have their own elections to worry about.

Liz Terwilliger and Stephen Wahrhaftig are co-founders of the Pennsylvania-based advocate organization, Reform Congress

9 thoughts on “Terwilliger + Wahrhaftig: Menthol-flavored votes”

  1. “Cigarettes are bad for your health”. Cigarettes kill. If you think lung cancer is bad go look up pictures of oral cancer. As for the rest of your post, the Biden administration announced a plan and then chose not to implement as they did more research.

    This is not the first time something like this has happened. Like Trump and his repeated statements that he was going to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better and he would announce it in two weeks.

    1. Now THAT is pathetic. Clearly politically motivated by sagging poll results concerning minorities.
      But but but TRUMP….. Sheese.

      1. What is pathetic is your response….Sheese.
        What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Trump promised a plan better than the Affordable Care Act, multiple times. So why
        is it bad that Biden cancelled this potential policy, but Trump gets a a pass.

        1. Terwilliger + Wahrhaftig: Hey, let’s write about specific tyrannical laws to mitigate perceived health dangers of smoking menthol cigarettes which were delayed for ulterior reasons. [Maybe T+W are correct; or maybe they are not correct.]
          Straw-man Judah: Nooooooo! Let me double down on the reasons you should give up liberty for safety, let me say the Biden Administration is noble for realizing they put their foot in their mouth, let me point out there is precedent for politicians acting in this herky-jerky unreasonable tyrannical behavior and for saying stupid things, and finally let me point out something stupid Trump said. TRUMP BAD. ME NO LISTEN TO WHAT YOU SAY. ME ANGRY. TRUMP BAD!

        2. I’d explain it to you, but I would have to type too slowly for you, and I’m fresh out of crayons.

          1. You can’t explain why when Biden does not do something its bad and when Trump fails to do something he is not held equally accountable.

  2. Judah, your comments might suggest to a more tolerant and polite reader you actually believe that you made a direct comparison without noticeable distinctiveness between the things being compared.
    Being too nice, tolerant, and polite is an indulgent sickness which has allowed “politically correct” behavior to infect our society.
    In fact, your rather insincere comment of “You can’t explain why when Biden… and when Trump…” simply reads like a child trying to argue what someone did was not (that) bad, because a different child altogether did something (totally different) which was probably bad, too.
    This specific comment of yours reveals you are not sincere nor a serious person. Rather you engage in constant word play and strawman positions.

  3. I see Biden’s team conducted more research regarding the effects of an open border. Thank God. Too late, but I guess we should be glad that a big election is coming.
    What’s next? The effects of ramming EV’s, wind farms and solar down our throat? One can hope.

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