FDA Proposes Long-Anticipated Menthol Cigarette Ban

The FDA says the menthol cigarette ban will reduce smoking rates among young adults, teens and African Americans.

Almost a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to ban menthol in cigarettes, federal regulators have officially proposed a new rule that would prohibit the tobacco companies from using the the additive, which they hope will prevent a new generation of Americans from becoming addicted to nicotine.

The proposed menthol cigarette ban was outlined by the FDA on April 28, indicating that removal of menthol flavored cigarettes from the market will decrease the appeal of tobacco products for teens and young adults, help prevent new smokers, and significantly reduce disease and death from smoking. The proposed rule also includes a ban on all flavored cigars.

Menthol is the last flavor still currently allowed in cigarettes. According to the FDA, the cooling sensation helps mask the harshness of tobacco, making it popular among younger individuals and prior non-smokers, increasing the risk they may develop a smoking addiction and making it harder to quit.

The long-awaited menthol ban was proposed under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which originally prohibited all characterizing flavors other than tobacco and menthol in cigarettes in 2009. The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on May 4, after which the agency will be taking public comments for 60 days.

Despite criticism from the tobacco industry leading up to the menthol ban proposal, the FDA maintains more than 18.5 million Americans 12 years of age and older currently use menthol cigarettes. In addition, 85% of all black smokers use menthol products, compared to 30% of white smokers. An estimated 74% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who admit to smoking cigars say they smoke them due to the flavors.

The agency noted that studies have found that if menthol cigarettes were no longer available on the market, roughly 15% of smokers would stop, which could ultimately prevent 324,000 to 654,000 smoking attributable deaths in the next 40 years.

The proposal highlights the appealing nature of menthol’s cooling sensation and how it has consequently drawn in the younger generation, with the highest rates of users being youth, young adults, African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups, which the agency says have been unfairly targeted through aggressive marketing strategies by the tobacco industry.

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra stated in the press release. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”

The FDA said the overall intent of the rule will be to reduce the appeal of cigarettes and improve the health and reduce the mortality risk of current menthol cigarette smokers.

If approved, the FDA enforcement will not make it illegal to possess tobacco flavored cigarettes or cigars, rather it will solely make the manufacturers, distribution, wholesaler, importer and retail illegal within the U.S.

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Menthol cigarettes gained popularity in the 1950s, especially among African American communities and young adults. Despite a 29% drop in adult smoking rates over the last 55 years, the use of menthol and flavored e-cigarettes among teenagers has been considered a national crisis.

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There are nearly 700 lawsuits filed against JUUL nationwide, claiming charges of addiction and false and misleading advertisement.

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