FDA Proposes Ban on Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars in Groundbreaking Move


In a monumental stride towards public health, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has initiated steps to ban menthol in cigarettes and flavored cigars. This move, lauded by experts, is projected to potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The FDA has forwarded a rule advocating for this action to the White House Office of Management and Budget for its final assessment.

For years, the FDA has deliberated over the prohibition of menthol and flavored cigars, underscoring the gravity of the matter for the agency.

Back in April, the FDA articulated its intent to enact product standard restrictions, emphasizing their potential to substantially reduce disease and mortality rates, curtail youth experimentation and addiction, and bolster the number of smokers who quit.

Dr. Brian King, Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, stated, “Finalizing these two product standards remains a top priority for the FDA. The posting of both rules on the OMB website means they have reached the final step of review for regulatory documents.”

According to the American Lung Association, this move could be the most significant action taken by the agency since it gained authority over tobacco regulation 14 years ago.

Erika Sward, Assistant Vice President of National Advocacy with the American Lung Association, hailed the development as "momentous" and emphasized its vital role in the path towards banning these products.

Several organizations, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, are urging the Office of Management and Budget to expedite the review process, with hopes that final regulations can be issued by year-end.

However, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, representing over 66,000 tobacco-selling stores, holds a differing view. It believes a ban could lead to an increase in criminal activity, shifting the supply of these products from regulated retailers to an expanded illicit market.

Menthol flavoring has long been recognized to enhance the addictive nature of cigarettes. It appeals particularly to new smokers, masking the harsh taste of tobacco. Studies have shown that menthol flavoring leads to increased smoking tendencies.

For decades, tobacco companies have targeted minority communities with menthol marketing, significantly impacting the Black community. Menthol cigarettes have contributed to exacerbated health disparities.

A ban on menthol cigarettes could potentially narrow these health gaps, as per a study by the Council on Foreign Relations. Black individuals face significantly higher smoking-related mortality rates than their White counterparts.

A study in 2022 estimated that a prohibition on menthol cigarettes could save up to 654,000 lives in the US over 40 years, including 255,000 Black lives.

The issue of flavored cigars is also under scrutiny, particularly their popularity among children, especially in Black and Hispanic communities. The elimination of flavored cigars could potentially increase the likelihood of users quitting.

Tobacco companies have attempted to circumvent bans with the introduction of cigarettes containing a menthol-like synthetic cooling agent. These products mimic the appearance of menthol versions and are marketed towards menthol smokers.

The final regulations may address these workarounds, but specifics remain uncertain.

Upon the federal government's finalization of rules, tobacco companies are anticipated to litigate, mirroring their response to previous tobacco restrictions.

Erika Sward emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating that the tobacco industry is likely to put substantial efforts into resisting the ban, recognizing its substantial impact on their ability to attract and sustain addiction.

"It’s a big deal for them because it is how they attract and sustain people’s addiction,” she said. “So if this stands, they will have lost a major tool that they’ve used to addict and sustain an addiction for millions of people.”