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House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products

A ban on flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products passed the House on Friday but divided Democrats, with some saying it unfairly targets African Americans.

The bill, which passed 213-195, was sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaBiden under pressure to spell out Cuba policy It's time for a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Biden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable MORE (D-Fla.), a Health and Human Services secretary under former President Clinton. It is intended to curb the rise of youth vaping rates by banning non-tobacco flavors such as mint and mango that public health experts say lure children into smoking.

It would also ban menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately used by African Americans after years of targeted marketing by tobacco companies.

While most Democrats supported the measure, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted against the bill, worrying it could give police a way to target African Americans.

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“This legislation has dire, unintended consequences for African Americans,” said Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeHillicon Valley: Twitter will not allow Trump account archive on platform | Commerce Dept. still weighing approach to Huawei, TikTok | Dating apps work to reinvent amid COVID-19 pandemic Key House leader to press for inclusion of cybersecurity in infrastructure bill Biden risks first major fight with progressives MORE (D-N.Y.), a member of the CBC. “Law enforcement would have an additional reason to stop and frisk menthol tobacco users because menthol would be considered illegal under this ban.” 
 
She also took issue with the fact that the bill exempts premium cigars favored by white people but took aim at products used by black people. 
 
"The message that we're sending is that, you know, for poorer communities — communities with less franchise that are gonna be over-policed — we're going to add an extra burden to them,” Clarke told The Hill on Thursday. 
 
A total of 17 Democrats including Clarke voted against the bill: Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldThe Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be? Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP CBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief MORE (N.C.), Lizzie Fletcher (Texas), Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeAdministration withdraws Trump-era proposal to loosen protections for transgender homeless people Watchdog blames Puerto Rico hurricane relief delays on Trump-era bureaucracy The Hill Interview: Vilsack touts infrastructure for rural US MORE (Ohio), Jared Golden (Maine), Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE (Okla.), Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonDemocrats seek Barrett's recusal from case tied to conservative backers Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire MORE (Ga.), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonWe must increase access to affordable mortgages for minority borrowers LIVE COVERAGE: Congress certifies Biden win after Pennsylvania, Arizona challenges fail Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum MORE (Fla.), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaMcAuliffe holds wide lead in Virginia gubernatorial primary: poll Lauren Underwood endorses Jennifer Carroll Foy in Virginia governors race Northam backing McAuliffe in Virginia governor's race MORE (Va.), Ben McAdams (Utah), A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinPolitical disenfranchisement is fueling environmental injustice White House names members of environmental justice panel Democrats reintroduce measure to address racial disparities in environmental impacts MORE (Va.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (Minn.), Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden and Harris call Floyd family after Chauvin verdict Julia Letlow sworn in as House member after winning election to replace late husband Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years MORE (La.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerLawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks MORE (Va.) and Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLawmakers slam DHS watchdog following report calling for 'multi-year transformation' 10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions MORE (Miss.).
 
Concern over the bill grew this week when the the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a strong pull in the Democratic Party, circulated a letter outlining its opposition.

“We hope we can work together to avoid repetitions of policies that are intended to protect youth and communities of color, but instead only further engrain systemic criminalization and racism,” the letter reads.
 
But other members of the CBC noted Friday that tobacco companies have targeted African Americans for years in their “predatory” marketing of menthol products, putting them at risk for smoking-related disease and death.

“Smoking cigarettes, especially menthol flavored cigarettes, has resulted in approximately 45,000 African American deaths each and every year,” said Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushUnleashing an American-led clean energy economy to reach net-zero emissions Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-Ill.)

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDemocrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote House panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Race debate grips Congress MORE (D-Texas), another member of the CBC, said on the House floor, “I’m not here to target people of color. I’m here to save lives.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Pelosi pushes for drug pricing measure | South Africa to resume administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine | Early data indicate Pfizer, Moderna vaccines safe for pregnant women Allow a vote on the 'Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act' Female Republicans 'horrified' by male GOP lawmaker's description of Cheney: report MORE (D-Calif.), aware of the opposition from some members of the CBC, touted support for the bill on Thursday from the NAACP, the National Black Nurses Association and the National Medical Association, which represents African American doctors and their patients.

African Americans are much more likely to use menthol cigarettes than white smokers, and are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Democrats hope to pass the bill to present a contrast to the Trump administration’s approach to youth vaping rates. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began enforcing a limited ban earlier this month on flavored pod-products, like those sold by Juul, with exemptions for menthol and tobacco flavors. It also exempted open-tank and disposable e-cigarettes.

The bill would also ban online sales of e-cigarettes and restrict advertising and marketing of those products. 

“We need to ban flavors across the board because that’s what masks the nicotine and makes people think that it’s OK,” Pallone said.

An estimated 5.4 million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2019, according to government data. 
 
Leading public health groups that support the legislation, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, argue the bans represent the best way to tamp down rising youth vaping rates.

Public health experts have argued for years that menthol cigarettes should be banned. Menthol helps reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke, making it harder to quit, experts say. 
 
While the U.S. has made great strides in reducing smoking rates, smoking is still responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year, according to the CDC. 
 
The Senate is unlikely to consider the bill, and President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE’s advisers said Thursday they would recommend he veto it in its current form.