Menthol cigarette ban: Biden administration may finalize regulations soon

The Biden administration is preparing to issue highly anticipated standards targeting menthol cigarettes.

The regulations, which would broadly ban the product, were first proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) two years ago and have continued to spark debate between health advocates, civil liberties and business groups. 

On Tuesday, anti-smoking groups sued the U.S. government over the long-awaited ban on menthol cigarettes, in the latest effort to force the government to ban the product which is disproportionately used by Black smokers and young people. 

"The FDA remains committed to issuing the tobacco product standards for menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars as expeditiously as possible; these rules have been submitted to the [Office of Management and Budget] for review, which is the final step in the rulemaking process," an FDA spokesperson told Fox News Digital. "As we’ve made clear, these product standards remain at the top of our priorities."

Health officials under President Joe Biden initially targeted to publish the rule eliminating the minty flavor last August. But, late last year, White House officials said they would take until March to review the rule. Three nonprofit groups, including Action on Smoking and Health, filed their lawsuit in a federal court in California after the March deadline passed.


Woman smokes a menthol cigarette in front of a Quick Stop store on March 30, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

"Because of defendants’ inaction, tobacco companies have continued to use menthol cigarettes to target youth, women, and the Black community — all to the detriment of public health," the groups state in their complaint.

Meanwhile, associations representing convenience stores, police, consumers and minority groups have warned a ban on menthol cigarettes could foster a black market while punishing small business owners and minorities who are the largest consumers of the product.

FDA develops plans to eliminate menthol

The Food and Drug Administration has spent years developing the plan to eliminate menthol cigarettes, estimating it could prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking deaths over several decades. Most of those preventable deaths would be among Black Americans.

Like all major federal regulations, the plan must get final approval from the White House.

RELATED: Menthol cigarette ban in the US? Here's the latest on the proposed FDA rule

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 whether to ban menthol.

The flavor’s persistence has infuriated anti-smoking advocates, who point to research that menthol’s numbing effect masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.5% of U.S. adults currently smoke cigarettes: 13.1% of men, 10.1% of women.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press, FOX News contributed.