WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that it’s moving forward with its effort to ban menthol cigarettes, as well as flavored cigars.
In a press release, the FDA said it’s committing to advancing the two tobacco product standards to significantly reduce disease and death from using combusted tobacco products, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
The FDA said it’s working to issue proposed product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors, including menthol, in cigars.
According to the regulatory agency, the decision to ban these products is based on science that shows how addictive and harmful they are to consumers.
The FDA said there’s strong evidence that a menthol ban will help people quit smoking. Studies that menthol increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among young people. Menthol can mask unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using.
The FDA said these actions build on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that was signed into law in 2009. Among other things, that legislation banned flavored cigarettes. However, menthol was not included in the banned flavors. The law instructed the FDA to further consider the issue of menthol in 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, M.D.
If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA says it can’t enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product.
Certain groups in the country, particularly the African American community, have been the subject of decades of highly effective menthol marketing practices. So, these bans could have a significant impact on the health of those people.
“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, J.D., 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.”
For menthol smokers who would be affected by the ban, the FDA said it will work with its federal partners to make sure support is available for those who are trying to quit. Smokers interested in quitting today should visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to learn about cessation services available in their state.
The FDA’s next step will be to publish proposed rules in the Federal Register, allowing an opportunity for public comment.