Menthol will be banned in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will ban all menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The federal agency first discussed such a ban in 2018 but did not move forward with it due to pushback from the tobacco industry. This time around, it has also yet to set a date for the measure to go into effect.
“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. “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 announcement comes shortly after similar ones made in the European Union and Canada, and many U.S. states have already attempted to put their own measures into place. It also follows a lawsuit brought by public health groups against the agency in 2020. It would apply to the whole distribution chain, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, and importers. The agency cannot take action against individuals but can help ensure the products do not make it to market.
Public health advocates applauded the move after asserting Black Americans smoke menthol products at a higher rate than other racial group, primarily because the tobacco industry has targeted its menthol marketing toward Black communities.
“The FDA has taken a historic, life-saving step. Menthol has long been the tobacco industry’s most sacrosanct flavor, responsible for addicting millions of people to their deadly products,” former CDC Director Richard Besser said. “Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs.”
Opponents believe a black market for the products will soar or a close alternative will hit soon after. Tobacco companies are also expected to challenge the decision. They have argued that the FDA does not have a strong legal justification for regulating menthol separately from other forms of tobacco. The regulations, if enforced, would lead to big costs for the industry.
“Evidence from other countries suggests that a menthol ban is not a magic wand that will spur a majority of users to quit nicotine entirely. There will be no massive public health benefit if the response from most menthol and little cigar smokers is to switch to Marlboros or use illicit products bought off the street,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said. Conley argued that the FDA must allow flavored vaping options as alternatives for menthol smokers.