The US Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it will start banning menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. This is a decision many anti-smoking advocates hoped for a long time.
Menthol Cigarettes Ban
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock issued a statement regarding the ban. “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,” she said.
Anti-smoking groups and health advocates who wanted a menthol ban lauded the decision. “It’s been a long road, but we’re here now,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health & Equity. “This is victory,” he added.
Black Smokers Prefer Menthol Cigarettes
The FDA ban can help Black smokers in particular, as they prefer menthol cigarettes. 85% of Blacks prefer menthol cigarettes, compared to just 30% for white smokers.
According to Mitch Zeller, FDA Center for Tobacco Products director, Blacks are more prone to suffer from tobacco-related ailments. “Black smokers are more likely to die of tobacco-related disease than white smokers. And while we’ve seen declines in menthol cigarette use among non-Hispanic, white youth, we have not seen the same decline in use from communities of color,” she added.
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Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also praised the ban. “The FDA has taken a historic, life-saving step. Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs,” he said in a statement.
Valerie Yerger, a founding member of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, also liked the move. She recognized the 47,000 Black Americans who died of smoking-related diseases annually since 2010.
“That’s more than 47,000 who are not here with us to enjoy this morning,” Yerger said during a briefing. Yerger’s group, along with the Action on Smoking and Health organization, sued the FDA previously. They did so when the agency didn’t respond to a 2013 citizen petition calling to ban menthol cigarettes.
Menthol is used in tobacco products to create a cooling sensation in the throat. This makes it easier to inhale the smoke and nicotine.
Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association, said this is a game-changer. “For generations, the tobacco industry has intentionally targeted Black and other communities with marketing of menthol cigarettes,” he said. This led to tobacco-related death and disease as well as health disparities,” he stated.
Also, Wimmer noted that close to half of all kids started smoking via menthol cigarettes. Experts hope when with the absence of menthol cigarettes, young people can avoid falling into the habit.
The CDC said that menthol leads young people to start experimenting with tobacco products,” said. . Teenagers often then turn to cigars in “flavors like banana smash, cherry dynamite, and chocolate,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
Pushback From Some Groups
Not everybody was happy about the ban, The National Newspaper Publishers Association is an organization that represents “more than 200 African-American owned community newspapers” in the US is one of those.
A recipient of Big Tobacco funding, the NNPA said that such a ban can further inflame tensions between the Black communities and police. “Daily interactions between police and people of color demonstrate that a menthol ban would give police pretext to approach a smoker to find out where cigarettes were purchased in order to get to the seller of the counterfeit tobacco,” the group wrote online.
However, the FDA allayed the NNPA’s fears. “This is a critical, and understandably sensitive issue, as our society confronts matters related to systemic racism and social justice,” Zeller said. He clarified that the FDA rule covers manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers” and not individuals.
As such, “the FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco,” Zeller emphasized.
Two Years For Menthol To Disappear From The Market
The FDA announcement represents the first step in a very long regulatory process. Given the process, menthol cigarettes will likely stay available for two years more. Advocates say that’s not such a bad thing. Two years is enough time for organizations to hold more smoking cessation programs.
Do you smoke cigarettes? Is smoking still a cultural thing in your area nowadays? Why do you think people enjoy smoking? Share with us your opinions on menthol cigarettes and smoking in general. Drop your comments below. For Americans who want to quit smoking, there’s hope.
Watch the CNBC TV video reporting that the FDA moves forward with a plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars:
Do you smoke cigarettes? Is smoking still a cultural thing in your area nowadays? Why do you think people enjoy smoking?
Share with us your opinions on menthol cigarettes and smoking in general. Drop your comments below.
For Americans who want to quit smoking, there’s hope. Visit the National Cancer Institute’s website, smokefree.gov. Or, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which connects callers to state-specific helplines.