The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it is considering a ban on menthol-flavoured cigarettes and all cigar flavourings other than tobacco flavour.
According to the agency, the proposal has the potential to significantly reduce tobacco-related disease and death by “reducing youth experimentation and addiction.”
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers while also assisting adult smokers in quitting,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “In addition, the proposed rules represent a significant step forward in advancing health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
ency, the proposed standards are based on “clear science and evidence” that establishes the addictive nature and harm of flavoured products. The proposal builds on the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which prohibited cigarette flavours other than tobacco and menthol.
“The authority to adopt tobacco product standards is one of the most powerful tools Congress gave the FDA, and the actions we are proposing can help significantly reduce youth initiation and increase the chances that current smokers quit,” said Dr. Robert Califf, commissioner of the FDA, in a statement.
The American Lung Association’s assistant vice president of national advocacy, Erika Sward, told NPR that the measure is “a big deal” and that rules prohibiting the use of menthol are long overdue.
“It will save lives, particularly in African-American and Latino communities in the United States, and it will reduce youth smoking,” Sward said. “It will also result in fewer people being diagnosed with or suffering from lung disease, cancer, and heart disease.”
According to the FDA, there were 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers aged 12 and up in the United States in 2019. Menthol cigarette use was more prevalent among young people and in Black communities.
For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted Black communities, according to NAACP vice president of policy and legislative affairs Portia Reddick White. In a letter sent last week, the organisation urged the FDA to prohibit the sale of menthol-flavoured cigarettes and cigars.
“Over the years, the tobacco industry has been ruthless in their targeting,” Reddick White told NPR. “They have actually targeted in a variety of ways, including advertising discounting prices that appeal or sponsoring events, as well as giving money to Black educational institutions and civic leaders.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Altria says the proposal will push the products into “unregulated criminal markets that don’t follow any regulations and ignore minimum-age laws.”
However, Dennis Henigan of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids believes the proposal will be upheld in court.
“I believe that the science is so strong in support of these rules, and the potential for saving lives is so well established,” Henigan told NPR.
For the next 60 days, the FDA will accept public comments on the proposal.