The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed banning menthol cigarettes and flavors in cigars, including small ones called cigarillos that are popular with teenagers.
According to the Washington Post, the move is being praised by leading health and civil rights groups that say the tobacco industry has a history of aggressively marketing to Black communities and causing severe harm, including higher rates of smoking-related illness and death.
FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would save lives. He added that 480,000 people a year in the United States die of tobacco-related illnesses, making smoking the leading cause of preventable death.
The effective date for the ban could be two years away. The FDA will accept public comments for the next few months and then write a final regulation that will include lead time for manufacturers to shutter production. Court challenges by the industry are expected and could set off a protracted legal battle.
“This is a giant step forward,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, an advocacy group that has pushed for the change. Because of potential litigation-related delays, she urged states and cities to adopt their own bans.
Manufacturers sold 203.7 billion cigarettes in the United States in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual Cigarette Report. That marked the first increase in two decades but was sharply lower than the peak in the 1980s, when annual sales exceeded 600 billion cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes make up about 36 percent of the market — and 50 percent of sales for Reynolds American, which manufactures Newport, the top-selling menthol brand.
“The scientific evidence shows no difference in the health risks associated with menthol cigarettes compared to non-menthol cigarettes, nor does it support that menthol cigarettes adversely affect initiation, dependence or cessation,” Kingsley Wheaton, chief marketing officer of British American Tobacco, which owns Reynolds, said in a statement.