The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it was planning on banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, citing the disproportionate health impact on minority groups.
The agency said that it intends to ban menthol within the next year. There’s strong evidence that banning menthol in cigarettes will help people quit smoking, singling out one study that suggests a menthol ban would lead 930,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 Black smokers, in a little over a year after a ban takes place, the agency said.
The FDA’s next step is to publish proposed rules in the federal register for public comment.
Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act In 2009, creating a flavor ban in cigarettes but excluding menthol. Just last year, the agency was sued by health groups over its lag in responding to a 2013 citizen petition to enact a ban on menthol cigarettes. The nonprofits, including the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said that the FDA’s failure to take menthol flavored tobacco off the shelf has led to thousands of premature deaths, particularly among Black Americans. Of Black smokers, nearly 85% smoke menthols, compared to 30% of white smokers, and flavored cigars are disproportionately popular among young people, according to the FDA.
The FDA first proposed banning menthol in 2018. The agency in the past two years has also taken steps to limit e-cigarette flavors that attract young people. Out of people between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoke cigars, 74% say they smoke because they like the flavors.
If the ban is implemented, the FDA would only take enforcement actions against manufacturers, retailers and distributors, but not individuals.