The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars, a move that was long awaited by scores of public-health groups.
“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement Thursday. Woodcock cited research estimates that banning menthol would prevent 630,000 tobacco-related deaths over 40 years, more than a third of them among Black Americans.
The agency has long faced calls to act on menthols, which are disproportionately used by youth and people of color and in low-income communities. More than 85 percent of Black people who smoke report using menthol products, according to the FDA, and Black men currently have the highest rates of lung cancer in the country.
“The FDA has taken a historic, lifesaving step,” wrote Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement. “Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health-care costs.”
The FDA’s decision will not ban menthol immediately but rather kick off the rule-making process to do so. The agency aims to propose regulations banning the flavor in the coming year, after which it will go through a legal comment period.
If the ban is implemented, the FDA said, individual users would not be affected. Regulations would apply only to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, and importers so that the product would never make it to the market.