In decision based on ‘clear science,’ FDA moves to ban menthol smokes

FDA announces ban , on menthol cigarettes.The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) announced that it was moving forward with the initial stages of the ban on Thursday.While menthol cigarettes will likely continue to be on the market for at least two more years, experts are calling the decision a "historic, life-saving step.".With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, , Dr. Janet Woodcock, Acting FDA Commissioner, via NBC News.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, Dr. Janet Woodcock, Acting FDA Commissioner, via NBC News.Many experts believe that banning menthol could prevent people from ever beginning to smoke.Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs, Dr. Richard Besser, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President, via NBC News.The ban will not include menthol flavored e-cigrarettes

Advocates say the move will save the lives of Black people, the targets of aggressive marketing by tobacco companies

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced that it will soon begin what could be a long and controversial process of banning menthol-flavored cigarettes and cigars.

Advocates for the ban have long argued that tobacco companies aggressively market menthol to Black smokers. Menthol cigarettes are easier to get hooked on and disproportionately harm Black Americans, public health experts say.

“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,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

ExploreHow tobacco companies methodically pushed menthol on Blacks smokers
The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will soon begin what could be a long and controversial process of banning menthol-flavored cigarettes. (Joey Ivansco / AJC file)
The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will soon begin what could be a long and controversial process of banning menthol-flavored cigarettes. (Joey Ivansco / AJC file)

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

The FDA says its decision is “based on clear science and evidence establishing the addictiveness and harm of these products.”

“One study suggests that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans, in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect,” the FDA statement said.

David Satcher, the founder of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine, hailed the decision. He’s been working for years to bring attention to racial health disparities and, as U.S. surgeon general in 1998, issued his first report on Black people and smoking.

“There is no question that Blacks are disproportionately impacted by smoking and menthol. Blacks have been trying to quit smoking just as hard as whites. So, if you eliminate menthol, you eliminate the major enticement,” said Satcher, who also served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Blacks have enough problems with disease and cancer, so anything that can reduce that would be a major step forward.”

David Satcher: a 1963 graduate of Morehouse College who went on to earn an M.D. and a Ph.d. from Case Western Reserve University. Satcher was director of the CDC from 1993 to 1998, when he was nominated by President Clinton to become U.S. surgeon general. He later served as president of Morehouse School of Medicine.
David Satcher: a 1963 graduate of Morehouse College who went on to earn an M.D. and a Ph.d. from Case Western Reserve University. Satcher was director of the CDC from 1993 to 1998, when he was nominated by President Clinton to become U.S. surgeon general. He later served as president of Morehouse School of Medicine.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

The ban would apply to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and importers. The federal agency cannot take action against individuals who possess or use menthol tobacco products.

The proposal is likely to be challenged by the powerful tobacco industry, which has argued that there is no evidence that menthol cigarettes are more toxic than regular ones.

Several civil rights groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose a ban as well, fearing that it will criminalize Black smokers.

“We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work,” Altria, one of the largest tobacco producers and marketers in the world, said in a written statement.

Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Durham, N.C.-based Center for Black Health and Equity, has been fighting to get menthol off the market since at least 1990. He’s encouraging grass-roots organizations to continue doing so until the ban is in place, a process that some advocates say could take years.

“It has been a long road. But, at the end of the day, this is a major milestone and public health victory for African Americans,” Jefferson said. “It shows that big tobacco can be held accountable for their marketing tactics. But we can’t let up. The fight is not over.”

Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health & Equity
Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health & Equity

Credit: Center for Black Health & Equity

Credit: Center for Black Health & Equity

Menthol cigarettes make up about 36% of all cigarettes sold in the United States, the highest proportion since major tobacco companies have been required to report such data. The CDC estimates that 85% of Black smokers buy menthol brands like Newport, which is owned by British American Tobacco’s R.J. Reynolds, and Kool, which is owned by Imperial Tobacco’s ITG Brands.

The FDA’s decision “is important because of the African American lives that have been lost and the suffering that has been endured because of the failure to regulate this deadly product,” said Joelle Lester, director of Tobacco Control at Public Health Law Center.

According to the CDC, while Black people smoke less, they die at higher rates from smoking-related heart disease, cancer and strokes. More than 45,000 Black people die annually from smoking-related illnesses.

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