The Food and Drug Administration has finally confirmed rumors that it plans to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes. In an announcement made Thursday, April 29, the FDA said that the sales, manufacturing, and import of the last flavor still allowed in cigarettes would be prohibited along with all flavored cigars in an effort to curb smoking rates, particularly among young people.
- Possession of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars won’t be outlawed. While you won’t be able to buy or sell them, if you already have a carton or two of Newports hanging around, you won’t get in trouble for having them, the New York Times reports. However, it’s thought that over time, possession won’t be much of an issue anyway as you won’t be able to buy them anywhere in the US.
- The ruling is an effort to save lives. There’s no denying that smoking-related deaths are incredibly high – 480,000 per year, as per a CDC estimate – and many of these smokers may have been introduced to cigarettes via mentholated versions. Banning the production and sales of these could see many people living longer, healthier lives. “Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner. “We believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the US.” In total, the agency believes it could save 633,000 lives by 2050.
- Menthol cigarettes are predominantly used by Black smokers. According to the FDA, menthol cigarettes make it easier for people to become addicted to smoking and much harder to quit. Black Americans tend to be disproportionately affected by the high death rate and menthol cigarettes are popular among this demographic due to the aggressive marketing aimed at the community for nearly 70 years. According to the FDA, roughly 85% of black smokers now use Newports, Kools, or other mentholated nicotine products.
- The process is a long one, but public health officials are pleased the process has begun. We are thrilled that the F.D.A. is taking this important step to protect all citizens, but especially African-Americans, from the deadly impacts of menthol,” said Kelsey Romeo-Stuppy. She’s a managing attorney for Action on Smoking and Health, an agency that helped spearhead the proposed ban. Last year, the organization sued the government for its lack of action on mentholated smoking products.
- The tobacco industry is not so happy, of course. As you can imagine, this is a multi-billion dollar industry and in Big Tobacco’s eyes, what’s a few hundred thousand deaths when they’re making so much money? “The published science does not support regulating menthol cigarettes differently from nonmenthol,” said Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds, the company that makes Newports. “The scientific evidence neither shows a difference in health risks between a menthol and a nonmenthol cigarette, nor does it support that menthol cigarettes adversely affect initiation, dependence or cessation.” However, the ban, while complicated to implement, will still go ahead.