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FIRST ON FOX: A prominent civil rights leader blasted the Biden administration’s proposed menthol cigarette ban and said the White House has excluded his group from the table on issues involving Black people.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Dr. Charles Steele Jr., the president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which Martin Luther King Jr. co-founded and served as its first president, aired his concerns about the Biden administration and other local and state leaders routinely ignoring his group, including talks regarding the proposed menthol ban.

“We are not being included in the conversation in terms of the civil rights movement, so how can any group of leaders – be it mayors, Congress, or the President of the United States – talk about Black folks and poor folks?” Steele asked Fox News Digital. “How can they bring policy and a mandate to ban menthol cigarettes?” 

BIDEN ADMIN’S PROPOSED MENTHOL CIGARETTE BAN COULD BECOME LIABILITY IN 2024: ‘UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES’

The Food and Drug Administration first proposed rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in April 2022 to “prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers” and to “help adult smokers quit.” The Biden administration has since delayed its plans until March.

The proposed ban has brought an avalanche of criticism, with many individuals and organizations arguing it could lead to significant consequences, such as heightened border problems and a surge in the criminal black market that could extend to Mexican cartels and terrorist groups. 

“People have choices,” Steele continued. “If you’re talking about banning anything, think about the prohibition on alcohol [in the 1920s and early 1930s]. You’ll create criminals. You’ve got an underground economic base of criminals.”

“I am against anyone who is trying to tell us what’s best for the African American or Black community, and they won’t sit down at the table and talk with us,” Steele said.

“I feel slighted. Nobody is making any moves to include us, so we’re being taken for granted. African Americans are not going to be taken for granted anymore.”

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President Joe Biden

The Biden administration’s postponement of the federal rules until March came on the heels of several delays. The regulations were expected to be finalized in August, but the administration later announced that they hoped to complete them by January. However, they noted that legal challenges would likely slow the ban from going into effect for several years.

Three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity previously told the Washington Post the delay stemmed from pressure from lobbyists and critics who cautioned that the ban might anger Black smokers and negatively impact Biden’s prospects in 2024.

Steele’s organization has argued that special interest groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has received extensive funding from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have hijacked minority policy. Bloomberg has committed over $1.5 billion to combating tobacco products since 2005.

In addition to Steele and the SCLC, other Black leaders have voiced worries over the proposed ban. Rev. Al Sharpton said the action would have unintended consequences for the Black community. 

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Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Patrick Lyoya, who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police officer during a traffic stop on April 4, at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 22, 2022. REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

“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 last year. 

“People are not going to stop smoking Newports and Kools because of a rule,” Sharpton said. “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.”

Groups have also taken aim at the Biden administration over how the proposed ban could hurt small businesses. The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association undertook a campaign to urge candidates to oppose it, starting with advertisements in New Hampshire

Conservative advocacy groups such as Building Americas Future followed suit with six-figure ad buys across multiple 2024 swing states and congressional districts.

Meanwhile, proponents of the ban argue it could reduce tobacco use and usher in 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 previously said. “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.”

The White House did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment. 

Fox News Digital’s Nikolas Lanum contributed to this report.

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