A conservative nonprofit is gearing up to hit President Biden and vulnerable Democrat lawmakers in crucial swing states over the administration’s proposed menthol cigarette ban, Fox News Digital has learned.
The Liberty Policy Foundation, a new group launched by senior GOP operatives, is set to target the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The FDA’s director of the Center for Tobacco Products, Brian King, told Fox News Digital in late October they are in the “final step of review for regulatory documents” after making their way to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
As the rule is expected to be finalized in the near future, the Liberty Policy Foundation will aim to educate Americans about Biden’s tobacco and crime policies with the campaign.
“When Americans realize Biden is criminalizing tobacco while the border is open, and heroin injection sites are being decriminalized, they’re going to ask their senators some questions,” a Liberty Policy Foundation spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “This is just the start.”
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As part of the effort, the group will send out mailers in key states calling out Biden and vulnerable politicians, such as Democrat Senators Jacky Rosen in Nevada, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Jon Tester in Montana and Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan.
The group says its mailer campaign, starting with five figures’ worth of cash in each targeted state, could expand to digital and TV advertisements.
The Liberty Policy Foundation is undertaking the campaign as other groups have also ramped up public awareness of the proposed rule. The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association has launched a drive to urge candidates to oppose it and began advertising in New Hampshire.
“What has gone up, thanks to Massachusetts’ ban on menthol cigarettes, is the size of the state’s illicit market,” the campaign’s website states. “A recent report by the Massachusetts Illegal Tobacco Task Force found that contraband cigarette seizures skyrocketed from just 5,377 in 2021 to 18,483 in 2022.”
“Illicit crime and the influx of dangerous narcotics go hand-in-hand,” it continues. “New Hampshire is no stranger to the fentanyl crisis. Recently, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Cassidy have been sounding the alarm on the connection between the Mexican cartels at the heart of the fentanyl crisis who are now looking ‘to exploit black market opportunities’ if the federal menthol ban goes into effect.”
Additionally, conservative advocacy group Building Americas Future is launching a six-figure ad buy across multiple 2024 swing states and congressional districts over the proposed menthol cigarette ban.
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Meanwhile, the proposed ban has faced heat from its critics. Ex-law enforcement officials previously expressed concerns about it to Fox News Digital, saying it will open up the door to several problems, such as creating a space for Mexican cartels to move in and sell menthol cigarettes on the U.S. black market.
“This is essentially a prohibition, and we know what happens when you remove a current market,” Jorge Colina, former City of Miami chief of police, told Fox News Digital. “That means organized crime and/or cartels move in.”
Colina called it an “unfunded mandate” that will “create a vacuum that is going to be ripe for the Chinese or the Mexicans or the cartels to move in and take advantage of what’s going to be a multi-billion dollar industry.”
And some Black leaders, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, believe it will have unintended consequences for the community.
“What we said is, ‘Y’all have got to consider unintended consequences.’ Imagine some cop pulling a kid over saying, ‘Where did you buy or get that Kool cigarette?’” Sharpton told Politico in April. “People are not going to stop smoking Newports and Kools because of a rule. They’re going to go and get them from people that go to the street in the black market. Then what happens? That’s all I’m asking.”
When the FDA rolled out the proposed rule in April 2022, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the action would protect children and benefit adult smokers.
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“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Becerra said. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
Proponents of the proposed actions said it could reduce tobacco use and ensure positive health outcomes.
“Once finalized, rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars rule will be the most significant actions that the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has taken in its 14-year history,” American Lung Association CEO and President Harold Wimmer said last month. “The American Lung Association is eager for these lifesaving rules to be implemented and urges the White House to finalize these rules before the end of the year.”
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“The science and data are clear. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will save lives,” Wimmer continued. “It will also help reduce the unjust disparities in tobacco use caused by the tobacco companies targeting certain communities with menthol cigarettes.”
The NAACP, 100 Black Men of America Inc., U.S. Conference of Mayors and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have also signaled support for the FDA’s proposal.
Fox News Digital’s Thomas Catenacci contributed to this report.