Menthol cigarette. Photo by Uitbundig on Unsplash

Nearly a million smokers may quit

By Al Tompkins

Poynter Institute

The Food and Drug Administration is banning menthol cigarettes. The FDA’s announcement did not come with an enforcement date, only saying it will work toward developing a regulation that bans these products “within the next year.” The FDA also proposed a ban on flavored cigars, including small ones called cigarillos that young smokers like.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found 28% of teen smokers light up 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 Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Stat included some important context about when the ban might begin and what difference it could make:

“It’s really impossible to predict,” said the director of the FDA’s tobacco center, Mitch Zeller, who noted that a previous regulation on menthol received more than 175,000 comments, all of which the FDA was required to consider. “There are very important considerations, starting with legal considerations, about getting this right.”

The ban comes on the heels of a similar decision by the European Union and Canada. A number of states, including Massachusetts and California, have also attempted to enact their own menthol bans.

Public health advocates, who have insisted that banning menthol will help ameliorate health disparities between White and Black Americans and blunt youth tobacco use, celebrated the FDA’s move. They argue that Black Americans smoke menthols at a higher rate than other racial groups because the tobacco industry has targeted its menthol marketing toward Black communities.

Zeller, the tobacco center director, cited a study claiming a U.S. menthol ban would prompt 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans, in the first 13 to 17 month after a ban was enacted.

“The FDA has taken a historic, life-saving step. Menthol has long been the tobacco industry’s most sacrosanct flavor, responsible for addicting millions of people to their deadly products,” former CDC Director Richard Besser said in a statement. “Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs.”

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