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Biden menthol ban will empower cartels, say some tribal leaders

(NewsNation) — Tribal leaders are warning the Biden administration its menthol ban would only give cartels more power over the American people, especially on reservations already being hit hard by the presence of drugs.

The Biden administration is taking aim at the tobacco industry with a potential new rule that would ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent the rule to the White House for review last month, the last regulatory step before it gets issued.

A menthol ban has been over a decade in the making and would be one of the most consequential policies from the FDA since it began regulating tobacco in 2009. Health officials and tobacco-control advocates have said such a move could save hundreds of thousands of lives, particularly among Black smokers.

However, many fear that the ban could cause more Americans to buy cartel cigarettes and create an even greater cartel presence in the U.S.

Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT) Chairman Marvin Weatherwax shared his concerns with the National Review, explaining the tribes are already being overrun by cartel members taking over the homes of tribal members in return for cash and drugs. His niece was among one of those who he said turned her house over to the cartel, which they then transformed into a meth lab.

Weatherwax said his niece’s home is one of more than 100 houses on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana that are unlivable because of the destruction caused by the meth labs and cartel, according to the report.

The thing is, tribal police don’t have the authority or control over nonmembers of the community, Weatherwax said.

“They pretty much feel unmatchable; they’re just brazen, out in the open. It’s almost like it’s raining fentanyl on our community,” Weatherwax told the National Review. “If they’re able to sell those illegal menthol cigarettes on our reservation, I’m sure more of our people are going to die over drug overdoses because this is another vehicle for them to addict people.”

The tobacco industry and retail groups argue that a federal menthol ban will not help smokers quit because there’s no proven relationship between menthol and either increases in dependence on cigarettes or smoking initiation. 

They also argue a ban would expand an illicit, unregulated marketplace of menthol cigarettes and would lead to more overpolicing in communities of color, similar to the war on drugs campaign of the 1980s and 1990s.

The ban would only apply to companies that manufacture, distribute or sell menthol cigarettes, not individuals who possess or use them.

The Hill contributed to this report.

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