But other African-American lawmakers, including Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, have expressed support for banning menthol cigarettes. Representative Donna E. Shalala, Democrat of Florida and a health secretary during the Clinton administration, said the cigarette makers — not lawmakers — are the ones responsible for negative consequences for African Americans.
“Cigarette companies are targeting the African-American community — they are the ones that have infected that community,” said Ms. Shalala, who is a lead sponsor of the measure. “Eight-five percent of African-Americans who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes. Seventy percent of African-American kids that are vaping are now vaping menthol.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi used part of her weekly news conference on Thursday to defend the vaping measure. She cited a letter supporting the bill signed by African-American doctors and nurses’ organizations, as well as the N.A.A.C.P.
“For decades, big tobacco has targeted African-Americans with menthol cigarettes, with devastating consequences,” the speaker said, reading aloud from the letter, which noted the “high death rates from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other smoking‑related illnesses” among African-Americans.
The letter said the tobacco industry was “using e‑cigarettes to hook a new generation with flavors like bubble gum, mint, mango and menthol.”
The bill, which would also require the Food and Drug Administration to place “colored graphics” on cigarette cartons depicting the health effects of smoking, comes amid rising concern among public health experts about the use of tobacco products — and in particular e-cigarettes — among young people.
But the divisions it spawned among Democrats reflected the power of industry groups that have strongly resisted federal attempts to regulate vaping and e-cigarettes, finding common cause with civil rights organizations, anti-tax groups and others across the political spectrum.