The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will begin the process of banning menthol tobacco cigarettes, as well as all flavored cigars. The ban would not include menthol-flavored electronic 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. 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,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact. Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the Administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.”
The FDA’s action was in response to a lawsuit filed by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Action on Smoking and Health. The groups sued because the agency had not answered a citizen petition sent to it in 2013 urging it to ban menthol as a flavor in cigarettes.
According to the groups, the majority of Black smokers (85%) use menthol cigarettes. They are more likely than white Americans to be diagnosed with lung cancer at more advanced stages, and Black men have the highest lung cancer death rate in the country.
“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. 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 Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “These flavor standards would reduce cigarette and cigar initiation and use, reduce health disparities, and promote health equity by addressing a significant and disparate source of harm. Taken together, these policies will help save lives and improve the public health of our country as we confront the leading cause of preventable disease and death.”
If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars would address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product, the agency said, and it will work to ensure unlawful tobacco products do not make their way onto the market.
The FDA added that it remains focused on its regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). The Center for Tobacco Products recently provided an update on its ongoing work of conducting the premarket review of ENDS and other tobacco product applications and has issued warning letters to ENDS product manufacturers and retailers who continue to sell products that are illegally on the market. The FDA has also made a significant investment in a multimedia e-cigarette public education campaign. The campaign targets nearly 10.7 million youth aged 12-17 who have ever used e-cigarettes or are open to trying them, and highlights information about the potential risks of e-cigarette use.
In a statement, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) said that it will monitor FDA’s Rulemaking Timeline Chart closely and update NATO members at the various stages of the rulemaking process including how to submit comments to the FDA.