House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products
The bill, which passed 213-195, was sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Donna Shalala (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.
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.
“This legislation has dire, unintended consequences for African Americans,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (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.”
“Smoking cigarettes, especially menthol flavored cigarettes, has resulted in approximately 45,000 African American deaths each and every year,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (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 Pelosi (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.
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.
The Senate is unlikely to consider the bill, and President Trump’s advisers said Thursday they would recommend he veto it in its current form.