The GOP's Newest Midterm Issue: Menthols?

Majority of voters in three swing states oppose Biden's menthol ban

Menthol Cigarettes (Getty Images)
April 25, 2022

With voters across the country already sour on Joe Biden's handling of immigration, foreign policy, and the economy, Republicans have identified another issue to rally midterm voters against Democrats: the president's proposed menthol cigarette ban.

According to an April Echelon Insights poll obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, swing-state voters in Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina widely disapprove of the Biden administration's potential menthol ban. Fifty-two percent of Georgia and Nevada voters and 50 percent of North Carolina voters say the administration should keep menthols legal. Just 28, 31, and 30 percent of voters, meanwhile, want to ban the flavored cigarettes in Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina, respectively.

Should the Biden administration move forward with its menthol ban, the decision could harm the president's standing in the three states, which are crucial to determining control of the Senate in the November midterm elections. Forty-nine percent of Nevada voters—including 60 percent of Hispanic voters in the state—would be less likely to support a candidate who "vocally supported" a menthol ban, the poll shows. Just 21 percent of Silver State voters would be more likely to back a menthol ban supporter, according to the poll.

The Biden administration announced its intention to ban menthol cigarettes on April 29, 2021, citing an intention to "address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals." According to the FDA, 85 percent of black smokers use menthol cigarettes over their non-flavored counterparts.

Roughly one year later, however, the proposed ban is still in limbo, and the Biden administration's delay has not helped sell the move to voters. With Biden facing spikes in violent crime, war in Ukraine, and record inflation, nearly 90 percent of voters in Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina believe the administration should not "spend their time banning menthol cigarettes," the Echelon poll shows. As a result, more than 60 percent of voters in the three states believe Biden should take a pause on the ban.

A veteran Republican operative told the Free Beacon that Republicans won't hesitate to highlight the ban if it's enacted, adding that there's "no issue Biden isn't capable of mishandling."

"As usual, the Biden administration continues to try to control the lives of everyday Americans instead of fixing the soaring inflation crisis it created," the operative said. "First, Biden said, 'If you don't vote for me, you ain't black.' Now, he's saying, 'If you choose to smoke menthols, you must be.'"

According to the Echelon poll, roughly two-thirds of Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina voters oppose the ban because they feel it would be ineffective. More than 60 percent of voters in the three states, meanwhile, believe the ban would "push the product out of legitimate stores and onto street corners where gangs and violent criminals sell and generate profit for organized crime." That number includes 77 percent of Hispanic voters in Nevada, 60 percent of Democratic voters in Georgia, and 64 percent of independent voters in North Carolina.

The American Civil Liberties Union voiced a similar concern last year, calling the ban a "policy disaster waiting to happen" because it would create "large, underground illegal markets" and cause "a massive law enforcement problem for states, counties, and cities." Earlier this month, anti-Semitic agitator and Democratic power broker Al Sharpton penned a letter to the Biden administration that said a menthol ban would "expose consumers to dangerous contraband cigarettes" and "promote criminal activity."