On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will ban menthol in cigarettes and all flavors, including menthol, in cigars within a year.
The drug regulatory body said menthol and other flavors make it easier to start smoking. It also said that menthol enhances the effects of nicotine, making it more addictive and harder to quit, according to WebMD.
For years, many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Cancer Society (ACA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Heart Association (AHA), and the National Medical Association (NMA), have urged the FDA to ban menthol.
In 2009, the FDA banned all flavors in cigarettes but did not take any specific action against menthol. Many groups filed a petition demanding the agency to ban menthol as well, but it never took any action.
Action on Smoking and Health and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, later joined by the AMA and the NMA, sued in 2020 to compel the agency to do something. Now it has finally agreed to act.
Dr. Phillip Gardiner, the co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said, “We know that this rule-making process could take years and we know that the tobacco industry will continue to do everything in their power to derail any attempt to remove their deadly products from the market.”
Dr. Susan Bailey, AMA President, said the AMA has been urging the FDA to quickly impose the ban and remove the products “without further delay.”
Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said, “FDA’s long-awaited decision to take action to eliminate menthol flavoring in cigarettes and all flavors in cigars ends a decades-long deference to the tobacco industry, which has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to profit from products that result in death.”
“FDA’s actions today send a clear message that Big Tobacco’s strategy to profit off addicting Black communities will no longer be tolerated,” she added.
However, not all groups are on board as far as the ban is concerned. Some organizations wrote a letter to the nation’s top health officials urging them to reconsider the ban.
The letter says, “Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction. A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
The organizations said policymakers should consider increased education for adults and minors, stop-smoking programs, and increased funding for health centers in communities of color instead of a ban, according to WebMD.
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said that banning menthol “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.”
“Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the [Biden] administration,” she added, “we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.”
AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers said, “This long-overdue decision will protect future generations of young people from nicotine addiction, especially Black children and communities, which have disproportionately suffered from menthol tobacco use due to targeted efforts from the tobacco industry.”
The agency’s announcement “is only a first step that must be followed with urgent, comprehensive action to remove these flavored products from the market,” he added. The article was published online on WebMD.