DeAnna Hoskins on the FDA’s proposed federal criminal ban on menthol products

May 9, 2023

For decades, lawmakers have been on an incarceration binge, promoting policies causing the imprisoned population to balloon — policies such as mandatory sentencing laws, three strikes laws, stop-and-frisk policing, and the abolition of parole. Our organization works to amplify the power of people who have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system, and nearly a decade after our founding, we welcome the increasing numbers of Americans who recognize our criminal system as one that disproportionately plagues Black, brown, and poor communities.

To its credit, the Biden administration recognizes these disparities and the systems of oppression that fuel them. But one key federal agency is about to implement a far-reaching policy that would unleash the legal system on millions of formerly incarcerated people who are already struggling to build better lives.

In a throwback to the century-old failures of the Prohibition era, the Food and Drug Administration is finalizing a federal criminal ban to prevent the adult use of flavored tobacco products like menthol. In a stark departure from cessation services or harm-reduction policy — the science-based and preferred approach of many public health experts — and in contrast to emerging policy around marijuana decriminalization, the FDA is reviving Prohibition-style criminal punishment.

We are not defending smoking — in fact, we strongly support public health goals around curbing tobacco use. And our concerns are not for the tobacco manufacturers who are the stated target of this new ban, but rather for the tens of millions of formerly incarcerated Americans who will inevitably become collateral damage in this latest federal zeal for over-policing.

Menthol and flavored tobacco are the tobacco products predominantly preferred by people of color, with over 80 percent of Black smokers using menthol.

As advocates for Americans with criminal histories, we know that many formerly incarcerated individuals, most of whom are people of color, use tobacco. The reasons are easy to guess, given the various barriers erected between formerly imprisoned people and pathways to opportunity.

Read the full op-ed by JLUSA President and CEO DeAnna Hoskins at

The public can submit electronic or written comments to the FDA. Electronic comments must be submitted (and written comments must be postmarked) by Tuesday, August 29. Please visit the Federal Register notice for more information and to submit electronic comments.

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