FDA proposes ban on menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed a long-awaited ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, targeting products used by more than a third of smokers.
The agency estimates roughly 18.5 million people use menthol cigarettes. The products are particularly popular with Black smokers, with 3 out of 4 reporting using menthol products.
More than half of smokers under 18 also use menthol cigarettes, and more than half of those young people who smoke cigars use flavors, according to the proposed rule. The ban would take effect one year after the final rule is published.
“Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will save lives. It will also help reduce the unjust disparities in tobacco use, primarily caused by the tobacco companies targeting vulnerable communities with menthol cigarettes,” American Lung Association’s National CEO Harold Wimmer said in a statement. “When finalized, we believe this will be the single most significant action taken by FDA in its almost 13-year history of regulating tobacco products.”
The FDA first announced its intention to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in April 2021.
Advocates have framed the menthol ban as an equity issue, but opponents have raised concerns about discrimination against Black smokers and potential excuses for heavier policing . The issue triggered lobbying on opposite sides of the issue by groups like the NAACP — which supports the ban — and the National Action Network, a group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton that opposes the ban.
The proposal is the latest move to tighten restrictions on the tobacco industry. In January 2020, Congress raised the eligibility age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The FDA is also beginning to regulate vaping products with synthetic nicotine after a loophole was closed in the 2022 omnibus.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Thursday said the agency should have control of the synthetic nicotine market by midMay, but underscored the importance of Congress greenlighting $100 million in user fees from the vaping industry to help fund the new efforts.
“Because we still got a lot of work to do,” he testified to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. “Two million, at least 2 million teenagers are currently vaping. Knowing what we know about nicotine addiction, it’s safe to assume the majority of those are already seriously addicted to nicotine.”