Watchdog group files lawsuit against Biden administration for documents pertaining to menthol cigarette crackdown

Watchdog group files lawsuit against Biden administration for documents pertaining to menthol cigarette crackdown

  • April 17, 2024

Jill Riley, Globe Echo

Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a nonpartisan government watchdog group, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over documents related to proposed regulations targeting menthol cigarettes. The group submitted four Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents pertaining to the proposed federal menthol cigarette ban with HHS and subagency the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late last year, none of which have been fulfilled. PPT’s founder, Michael Chamberlain, alleges that the Biden administration and FDA are withholding information that could shed light on the controversial rule.

The Biden administration’s proposed menthol cigarette ban continues to face delays, with the White House missing target dates for finalizing the regulations. The FDA, which first proposed the ban two years ago, has sent the regulations to the White House for final approval, but it remains unclear when they will be finalized. The FDA claims that banning menthol cigarettes nationwide would reduce disease and deaths from tobacco use by reducing youth experimentation and addiction, as well as increasing the number of smokers who may quit. However, the proposed crackdown has sparked a contentious debate between health advocates, who support the regulations, and civil liberties and business groups, which oppose them.

PPT alleges that HHS has not met its obligations under FOIA by failing to provide the requested records for the group’s December requests. The lawsuit argues that HHS has constructively exhausted its administrative remedies due to the agency’s failure to make a determination within the required time period. HHS, listed as the sole defendant in the lawsuit, has not responded to requests for comment on the matter. The proposed menthol cigarette ban has raised concerns among groups representing minorities, who argue that banning menthol cigarettes while not restricting non-menthol cigarettes could disproportionately impact minority communities and lead to negative interactions between police and minorities.

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