FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars

The US Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars, including menthol flavor, within the next yea...

Posted: Apr 29, 2021 11:48 AM
Updated: Apr 30, 2021 1:00 PM

The US Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars, including menthol flavor, within the next year, according to an agency announcement Thursday.

The aim is to 'significantly reduce disease and death' from using these two products. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'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. '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.'

The agency said it hopes to have the ban in place in a year. It cannot ban the flavor immediately because the proposed change needs to go through a legal public comment period.

The regulations would only apply to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and importers so that the product would never make it to the market. The agency cannot take action against individuals who would possess or use menthol tobacco products.

More than a third of all the cigarettes sold in the United States in 2018 -- the last year for which statistics were available -- were menthol flavored, according to the CDC.

Ban meant to promote health equity

The move is meant to promote better health equity, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said at a news conference Thursday.

'Despite the tremendous progress we've made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn't been experienced by everyone equally,' said Zeller. 'In the United States, compared to non-Hispanic White smokers, significantly fewer Black smokers support long-term quitting and Black smokers are more likely to die of tobacco-related disease than White smokers.'

Mentholated brands of tobacco products have been heavily marketed to racial minorities resulting in disproportionate use. More than 85% of mentholated brand users are Black, nearly 47% are Hispanic, 38% are Asian, nearly 29% are White, according to the CDC.

Studies show that menthol flavoring increases the appeal of tobacco products and can lead people, particularly young people, to become regular smokers. Advertisers of menthol-flavored cigarettes have disproportionately targeted the Black community.

Menthol flavoring is also believed to be more addictive and harder to quit. One study showed that if menthol was banned, within a little over a year, it would lead 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said the organization has been calling for a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes for years.

'For decades, the tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans and have contributed to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer across our community,' Johnson said in a statement. 'The tobacco industry is on a narrow quest for profit, and they have been killing us along the way...it's about time we prioritize the health and wellbeing of African Americans.'

Menthol-flavored cigarettes are considered a 'tremendous public health threat' for kids, according to the Tobacco Free Kids organization. Pediatricians have long called for a ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol. For novice smokers, the taste of a cigarette can be too harsh, whereas, flavors make it easier for beginners to try the product.

On Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the announcement from the FDA, calling this an 'important step forward.'

'This long overdue decision will protect future generations of young people from nicotine addiction, especially Black children and communities, which have disproportionately suffered from menthol tobacco use due to targeted efforts from the tobacco industry,' the AAP said in a statement. 'While the American Academy of Pediatrics commends the FDA's announcement, it is only a first step that must be followed with urgent, comprehensive action to remove these flavored products from the market.'

Even still, there are some concerns from groups about the potential menthol ban. A letter sent from the ACLU and 26 other advocacy groups to the US Department of Health and Human Services Monday said that such a ban could have 'serious racial justice implications.' The groups said that they want to see even more progress in addressing health needs of communities of color, but a menthol ban could trigger criminal penalties that disproportionately impact people of color and 'prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction.'

The groups argue that criminalization of such products could lead to negative, and even deadly, interactions with local law enforcement. 'For these reasons, well-intentioned efforts to continue to reduce death and disease from tobacco products must avoid solutions that will create yet another reason for armed police to engage citizens on the street based on pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety,' the letter said.

A decision long overdue

In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco products and prohibited all flavors in cigarettes, with the exception of tobacco and menthol flavor. The act directed the FDA to create a Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to look at the issue of menthol in cigarettes and its effect on public health. It also asked the FDA to reevaluate the flavor ban periodically to determine if the standards should be changed to reflect any new scientific data with regard to menthol.

The legislation urged the US Department of Health and Human Services to address the menthol issue 'as quickly as practicable.'

In 2020, groups including the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association filed a lawsuit against the FDA that claimed that the agency had failed to act on menthol cigarettes. In November, a court denied the FDA's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Asked during Thursday's media briefing why it has taken the FDA so long to act, Zeller said that 'it's too pat, as a regulator, to say 'these things take time,' ' and added, 'but here we are announcing an important action that will go a long way to addressing some of the most significant health inequities that exist.'

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2086836

Reported Deaths: 52989
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings27765110329
Queens2744939860
Suffolk1995923381
Nassau1824223163
Bronx1815006537
New York1369774457
Westchester1288972268
Erie885071778
Richmond741091812
Monroe669861076
Orange47908810
Rockland46697957
Onondaga38132671
Dutchess29214444
Albany24455350
Oneida22283505
Niagara19721363
Broome18381357
Saratoga15136166
Ulster13788251
Schenectady13009200
Rensselaer11123140
Putnam1054291
Chautauqua8820141
Chemung7570135
Oswego746190
Ontario731992
Steuben6794143
Sullivan655872
St. Lawrence652496
Cayuga623192
Jefferson595367
Wayne566467
Cattaraugus562088
Genesee5365123
Herkimer5114107
Clinton481033
Madison448288
Livingston438958
Fulton434891
Tompkins425651
Montgomery4209123
Columbia4018102
Cortland377360
Tioga371362
Warren359257
Wyoming352452
Allegany345184
Chenango341276
Otsego340347
Greene337077
Washington309555
Orleans306183
Lewis271634
Franklin251812
Delaware232137
Seneca198356
Schoharie166717
Essex157826
Yates116926
Schuyler103314
Hamilton3072
Unassigned12248
Out of NY0239
Utica
Partly Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 69°
Oneonta
Partly Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 69°
Herkimer
Partly Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 69°
Old Forge
Partly Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 69°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Senior Send-Off brought to you by Herkimer College
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve