In this photo illustration, packets of menthol cigarettes sit on a table on November 15, 2018 in New York City.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will propose a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes in the United States, which would be a blow to future tobacco sales.
Menthol is the last flavor allowed for cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes have been used disproportionately by young people, people of color and low-income communities, according to the FDA. The vast majority of black smokers prefer menthol cigarette brands, and black men currently have the highest lung cancer rates in the country.
“Through these measures, the FDA will help dramatically reduce youth initiation, increase the odds of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address the health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations. income and LGBTQ + people, all of whom are much more likely to use these tobacco products, ”said Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the FDA, in a press release.
The move comes after years of deliberation by public health officials to help smokers switch to less harmful methods, such as non-combustible products, or quit smoking altogether.
The proposal will likely be challenged by the industry. Menthol cigarettes make up about a third of all cigarettes sold in the United States. The main brands are Newport, which is owned by RJ Reynolds of British American Tobacco, and Kool, which is owned by ITG Brands, of Imperial Tobacco.
Imperial Brands said the FDA decision was “disappointing” but expected.
“We believe the rulemaking process will reveal that there is no clear scientific evidence to support a federal ban on menthol and flavorings. We hope the FDA follows the law and prioritizes policy. and solid science versus political pressure, ”the company said.
Altria, the Malboro cigarette maker, warned of the potential of a ban to spur the birth of an illegal market.
“We share the common goal of shifting adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but the ban is not working,” Altria said in a statement. “Criminalizing menthol will have serious unintended consequences.”
Reynolds and his parent company British American Tobacco were not immediately available for comment.
If implemented, the proposal would be a huge victory for tobacco advocates who have long viewed flavored cigarettes as a way for consumers to learn about smoking.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, the FDA said. It plans to implement product standards to phase out menthol in cigarettes over the next year, as well as phase out all signature flavors, including menthol, in cigars.
Fourteen percent of all American adults smoked cigarettes in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although smoking rates are similar between black and white populations, black smokers are less likely to quit, which some have attributed to the minty flavor. The UKTN flavor of menthol cools the throat and makes it easier for smokers to tolerate the flavor of tobacco.
Shares of Altria fell less than 1% in morning trading, while shares of British American Tobacco, Reynolds’ parent company, fell around 2%.
Read the FDA statement here.
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