The US Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will “work toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year” to ban menthol cigarettes. The ban aims to “reduce tobacco addiction and curb deaths” and “address health disparities,” the FDA said in a statement.
Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock stated on Thursday, “Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those who are disproportionately affected by these lethal products.”
“Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the [Biden] Administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.”
The announcement comes after the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association filed a lawsuit against the FDA in June.
The lawsuit claimed that the council and the other three groups had “repeatedly called for FDA to fulfill its statutory duty to re-evaluate tobacco product standards and take up a rule to ban menthol cigarettes. FDA has failed to do so, refusing even to resolve a Citizen’s Petition … filed more than seven years ago.”
The petition to ban menthol was filed in 2013 by 19 public health organizations.
According to the lawsuit, “the FDA’s delay, inaction, and failure to ‘move quickly’ has been devastating, resulting in millions of people starting to smoke cigarettes and thousands of premature deaths.”
“With these actions, the FDA 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,” Woodcock stated on Thursday.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “This science-based decision reflects the Biden Administration’s commitment to improving the health of all Americans and addressing health disparities in our most marginalized communities.”
On Thursday, the FDA issued the following statement: “Menthol masks the unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing to new users. Tobacco products containing menthol may be more addictive and difficult to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine.”
In the United States, approximately 18.6 million people smoke menthol cigarettes. According to the FDA, nearly 85 percent of all Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, while 30 percent of white smokers use menthol cigarettes.
Following the announcement of the ban, the association stated: “According to an FDA committee report, if menthol cigarettes had been removed from the market in 2010, (a) by 2020, approximately 17,000 premature deaths would have been avoided and approximately 2.3 million people would not have started smoking. It is critical that menthol be banned immediately.”
Phillip Gardiner, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said on Wednesday: “Smoking rates are going down, but people’s use of menthol is not. Who’s being left in the market are menthol smokers. They’ve been predatorily marketing these products to the African American community.”
“After more than a decade of inaction from the federal government on menthol, the Biden Administration acted quickly and definitively to prioritize Black lives and make progress toward ending the institutionalized racism African Americans face as a result of menthol cigarettes,” Action on Smoking and Health said in a statement on Thursday.
Gardiner said in a joint statement with ASH, “The AATCLC strongly encourages tobacco control activists across the country to continue fighting to ban the sale of menthol tobacco products at the local, state, and federal levels.”
Aamra Ahmad, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, said on Wednesday: “There are serious concerns that the ban implemented by the Biden administration will eventually foster an underground market that is sure to trigger criminal penalties which will disproportionately impact people of color and prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction.
The FDA stated in its announcement on Thursday that “any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers.”