FDA to ban menthol flavored cigarettes targeted at minority community
The US Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it is taking steps within the next year to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars. More than a third of all the cigarettes sold in the United States in 2018 — the last year for which statistics were available — were menthol flavored, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Advertisers of these menthol-flavored cigarettes have heavily targeted the Black community and other racial minorities resulting in a disproportionate usage by people of color. According to the CDC, they looked at smokers from each community and said 85% within the black community who smoke uses mentholated brands, while 47% of the Hispanic community uses it, and 38% within the Asian community chose mentholated products.
Studies also show that menthol flavoring increases the appeal of tobacco products which has led people, particularly young people, to become regular smokers. Studies suggest that Menthol flavoring is also more addictive and harder to quit. One study showed that if menthol was banned, within a little over a year, it would lead 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans.
“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,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. “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.”
Concurring with the move is Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP. In a statement he said the organization has been calling for a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes for years. “For decades, the tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans and have contributed to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer across our community. The tobacco industry is on a narrow quest for profit, and they have been killing us along the way…it’s about time we prioritize the health and wellbeing of African Americans.”
During a press conference, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said the move is meant to promote better health equity. “Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally,” said Zeller. “In the United States, compared to non-Hispanic White smokers, significantly fewer Black smokers support long-term quitting and Black smokers are more likely to die of tobacco-related disease than White smokers.”
Also applauding the actions of the federal government is the American Academy of Pediatrics, calling this an “important step forward” because menthol-flavored cigarettes have been considered a “tremendous public health threat” for kids, according to the Tobacco Free Kids organization. Pediatricians have long called for a ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol. For novice smokers, the taste of a cigarette can be too harsh, whereas flavors make it easier for beginners to try the product.
The aim is to “significantly reduce disease and death” from using these two products. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency said it hopes to have the ban in place in a year as the proposed change needs to go through a legal public comment period before being implemented.