The FDA will announce the ban of menthol-flavored cigarettes in a win for Black and LGBTQ smokers.
The Food and Drug Administration attempted several times to eliminate menthol but faced pushback from so-called Big Tobacco lobbyists, members of Congress and competing political interests across the aisle.
A lawsuit filed by anti-smoking and medical groups last summer to force the FDA to get rid of menthol, alleging that regulators had “unreasonably delayed” responding to a 2013 petition seeking to ban the flavor, is the impetus for this decision.
The FDA said it aims to draw up regulations banning the mint flavor for use in tobacco products in the coming year. Menthol and fruit flavors such as apple are popular in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products with Black teens.
“We will save save hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent future generations from becoming addicted smokers,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, of the FDA.
She said research backed up the fact that banning menthol would prevent 630,000 tobacco-related deaths, a third of them Black, over 40 years.
Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, and it is a flavor that many say is particularly addictive as the “cleaner” taste and numbing effect masks the toxicity of nicotine.
The mint-flavored cigarettes are predominantly consumed by young people and minorities, particularly LGBTQ and Black smokers. An estimated 85% of POC who smoke choose menthols compared to about a third of white smokers.
Smoking can cause cancer, strokes and heart attacks. It is blamed for almost half a million deaths each year in the U.S. Black smokers have more problems quitting the habit, which the U.S. Surgeon General attributes to menthol-flavored cigarettes, which have the feeling of being cooling and medicinal.
The FDA’s attempts to get rid of menthol have repeatedly been delayed or derailed by forces inside and outside government.
Massachusetts and California have successfully passed laws banning menthol. But California’s ban was suspended in January after a legal challenge backed by tobacco companies; the issue is on the ballot next year. This would be the first federal ban.