The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The ban is a long time coming. Menthol is the last special flavor allowed in cigarettes in the U.S. market.
In 2009, the Tobacco Control Act banned all flavors but menthol and tobacco. It gave the FDA the authority to regulate the tobacco industry in order to protect public health. The new law also required the FDA to conduct research on menthol.
At the time, some in the Congressional Black Caucus opposed it because more than 80 percent of Black smokers in the U.S. use menthol products, compared to 30 percent of white smokers.
But now this has changed, with many supporting the public health initiative.
After several years of research and investigation by the FDA, the Public Health Law Centers and other groups filed a citizen’s petition requesting that the FDA prohibit menthol in cigarettes. A lawsuit filed in 2020 alleged that the FDA unreasonably delayed issuing a final response, and in 2021, the FDA said that it would pursue rule-making.
About 18.6 million people smoke menthols in the U.S., making up about 36 percent of all smokers. To this day, a disproportionate number of menthol cigarette smokers are minority Americans, making this an equity issue. The tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol products to Black and minority communities.
In addition, more than half of kids who smoke use menthol cigarettes, according to the CDC.
The news comes as smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking kills more than 480,000 people every year. If the new proposed rule goes through, the ban could also help reduce cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
Smoking rates hit an all-time low in 2018, but smoking is still the top cause of preventable death, as well as preventable disease and disability.