The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced plans to ban the use of menthol flavoring in cigarettes within the next year.
What Happened: The agency also announced it would ban all characterizing flavors, including menthol, in cigars within the same time period.
Due to a loophole in the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, menthol was not included in the FDA’s ban on characterizing flavors in cigarettes marketed in the U.S.
In 2013, 19 public health organizations petitioned the FDA to expand the ban to include menthol cigarettes. When the agency didn’t act, it was the subject of a June 2020 lawsuit by a coalition of medical and anti-smoking groups led by the American Medical Association (AMA).
Why It’s Important: According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention statistics from 2018, the last year with available data, more than one-third of all the cigarettes sold in this country were menthol flavored. The CDC data also showed nonwhites were a disproportionately higher user of menthol cigarettes: approximately 85% usage among Blacks, 47% among Hispanics, 38% by Asians and nearly 29% by Whites.
In announcing its action, the FDA emphasized the health risks created by smoking of by specific socioeconomic corners of the population.
“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,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “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.”
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The FDA added that its efforts will only be aimed at the manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers of menthol cigarettes and no law enforcement will be taken against individuals possessing or using these products.
On a wider spectrum, the World Health Organization estimated that menthol cigarettes account for 10% of the global cigarette market.
The first filter-tipped menthol cigarette was the Salem brand introduced in 1956 by Reynolds Tobacco, the forerunner of R.J. Reynolds, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (NYSE: BTI). Other tobacco companies offering the product include Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE: PM) and the Marlboro brand parent company Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO).
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