The Food and Drug Administration has started the process of banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The agency faced a 2013 deadline to make the move after a citizen petition was filed urging the FDA to ban the flavored cigarettes. After seven years of inaction on the issue, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Action on Smoking and Health filed a lawsuit, demanding the FDA take action.
Officials said the ban will save lives and reduce the number of young people who start smoking. The FDA cited a study that estimated 923,000 people would quit smoking within 17 months if menthol cigarettes are banned. Another study estimated that the ban would prevent about 633,000 deaths.
"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."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. in 2018 were menthol flavored. The FDA said that an estimated 18.6 million people smoke menthol cigarettes. Out of all Black smokers, 85% smoke menthols, compared to 30% of White smokers and 47% of Hispanic smokers.
The FDA's actions are just the first step in a lengthy process to remove menthol cigarettes from store shelves across the country. It could take between two and four years before menthol cigarettes are banned from being manufactured or sold in the United States.
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