The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes and cigars, following a pledge a year ago to bar the flavor for its outsized impact on minorities.
The FDA said that in 2019 there were more than 18.5 million smokers of menthol cigarettes above the age of 12, with high rates among young people and African Americans and other minorities. Studies estimate that a ban on menthol cigarettes would reduce smoking by 15% within 40 years, the FDA said, and prevent 324,000 to 654,000 deaths due to smoking-related diseases.
A ban on menthol would also discourage youth from picking up smoking, the FDA said.
Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, creating a flavor ban in cigarettes but excluding menthol. Congress instructed the FDA to research the flavor.
The FDA first proposed banning menthol in 2018. In the past several years, the agency has also taken steps to limit e-cigarette flavors that attract young people.
The public can comment on the proposed rule. The agency said that it is seeking input on policy concerns over potential racial and social justice impacts of the proposed ban.
The FDA said that it won’t take action against individuals for possessing or smoking menthol cigarettes or cigars.
If the proposed rules are finalized, the FDA will only take enforcement action against manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers over menthol cigarettes.
State and local law enforcement agencies do not enforce the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and can’t take action against any violation of the FDA’s tobacco regulations.