FDA Moves To Ban Menthol Cigarettes And Flavored Cigars : NPR

FDA Moves To Ban Menthol Cigarettes And Flavored Cigars : NPR


Menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products at a store in San Francisco in 2018. U.S. health regulators announced a new effort Thursday to ban menthol cigarettes.

Jeff Chiu/AP


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Jeff Chiu/AP

Menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products at a store in San Francisco in 2018. U.S. health regulators announced a new effort Thursday to ban menthol cigarettes.

Jeff Chiu/AP

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is moving to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, based on the evidence of the addictiveness and harm of the products. Tobacco companies have long targeted African Americans with advertising for menthol cigarettes.

“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement Thursday. “With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.”

A potential ban by the FDA would only apply to manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers.

The agency says it won’t enforce against individual possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product. Instead, the agency says it will work to keep the products off the market.

The move follows previous actions that banned other flavored cigarettes in 2009. While the FDA made a similar announcement to ban menthol cigarettes in 2018 during the Trump administration, a ban did not come to pass.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that the proposed ban “is a public health decision that will help curb addiction and save lives.”

“If implemented, these rules affect only commercial activity,” she emphasized, noting the FDA does not regulate tobacco possession.

The FDA said that “menthol masks unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using. Tobacco products with menthol can also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine.”

African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, citing a 2004 study, said the vast majority of Black youths age 12-17 who smoke — 7 out of 10 — use menthol cigarettes.

The NAACP welcomed the FDA’s announcement.

“For decades, data have shown that the tobacco industry has successfully and intentionally marketed mentholated cigarettes to African Americans and particularly African American women as ‘replacement smokers;’ that menthol smokers have a harder time quitting smoking; and that tobacco use is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer, and stroke – three leading causes of death among African Americans,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

“The ban by the FDA is long overdue to protect the health of African Americans and to reduce the deleterious impact of menthol smoking and tobacco use overall on America’s health,” he said.

But tobacco giant Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, argued that a ban won’t work.

“We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work,” Altria spokesman George Parman said in a statement to NPR. “A far better approach is to support the establishment of a marketplace of FDA-authorized non-combustible alternatives that are attractive to adult smokers.”

Altria said it will review the FDA’s announcement and engage in the rulemaking process “with a focus on the science and evidence.”

But the American Medical Association said the evidence is clear on the harmful impacts of menthols, and called the FDA’s decision “long- overdue.” It pointed to an FDA finding that if menthol cigarettes had been removed from the marketplace in 2010, “by 2020, roughly 17,000 premature deaths would have been avoided and about 2.3 million people would not have started smoking.”

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council has long pushed to ban menthol cigarettes.

“This is a major step forward in Saving Black Lives; however, this is not the end of this fight, only the next stage,” Dr. Phillip Gardiner, the council’s co-chair, said in a statement. “We know that this rule making process could take years and we know that the tobacco industry will continue to do everything in their power to derail any attempt to remove their deadly products from the market.”



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