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Dec 6, 2023, 4:02pm EST
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Why countries are struggling to ban smoking

Cigarettes
REUTERS/Yves Herman
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The News

President Joe Biden is delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes amid concerns that the move would hurt his reelection campaign.

The White House on Wednesday said that the long-awaited ban will not be finalized until March. Biden’s administration has been facing mounting pressure from Democrats and civil rights groups, who say a ban could anger some Black voters who favor the products and that an underground market for the cigarettes would lead police to disproportionately target Black people.

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Chinese-made flavored vapes, like the Elf Bar, are now among the best-selling brands in the U.S, rivaling major players like Juul. Heaven Gifts, the Shenzhen-based company behind the Elf Bar, “simply ignored regulations on new products and capitalized on poor enforcement” in the U.S., Reuters reports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have the manpower to “stem the tide of cheap Chinese vapes,” one FDA official said. The Chinese Communist Party has also helped Heaven Gift to flood U.S. markets by reducing the required export inspections despite Beijing’s own crackdown on domestic vaping.

U.S. smokers quitting tobacco and turning to vaping “could be a tipping point for America’s tobacco industry,” columnist Carol Ryan writes for the Wall Street Journal. Stocks of major players like British American Tobacco and Altria are down significantly from last year, with the values of BAT’s most famous brands like Camel and Newport cut by around a third. While BAT has planned to focus more on smoke-free products, tobacco companies face economic challenges in making the switch because “investment in innovation hampers profits, dividends, and share buyback plans,” Ryan explains. She calls Altria’s $12.8 billion investment into Juul this year “one of the most value-destructive investments in recent history.” U.S. tobacco companies are unlikely to gain much from pivoting to smoke-free alternatives until Washington begins cracking down on Chinese-imported vape products.

The New Zealand government’s recent decision to reverse its smoking ban has sparked mixed feelings from the country, including its Maori population, according to Filter, a magazine known to criticize tobacco control policies. Maori activists pushed for the ban because of the significantly higher rates of smoking in the population, but some leaders applauded the reversal over concerns that Maori communities would be disproportionately targeted by police cracking down on a stronger black market. Some health experts told Filter they are worried about the government’s decision to use revenue from cigarette sales to fund broader tax cuts, with one oncologist saying the administration “seems to want people to continue smoking as a way to [reduce] tax.”

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