“By combining the action against menthol cigarettes with flavored cigars, the FDA will laser-target products that have the primary role of increasing use by young people,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for tobacco-free children. “The only flaw is that it cannot take a year to issue a notice of proposed regulation. Timing is everything; it is essential that the FDA move quickly, both to start the process and to complete it.”
The momentum to ban menthol cigarettes has grown in recent years, with lawmakers and public health groups pointing to decades of targeted marketing to black communities.
“Banning menthol – the last flavor allowed – in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, especially among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” said Janet Woodcock , acting commissioner of the FDA, in a statement.
Over 85% of black Americans who smoke report using menthol products. But critics of the ban argue it will trigger a black market that could exacerbate excessive control and violence against these communities.
Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, said enforcement of the potential ban would target manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers.
“The FDA cannot and will not argue against the possession or use by individual consumers of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product,” Zeller said. “Our job will be to make sure that no illegal tobacco products hit the market.”
The main tobacco regulator told reporters that “it’s a fair question” why the FDA hasn’t taken quicker action to regulate menthol cigarettes. He noted that the agency had received around 175,000 comments when it issued an advance notice of proposed regulations in 2013.
“Many of these comments were part of letter-writing campaigns, either in favor of a menthol ban or in opposition to a menthol ban,” Zeller said. “But once comments are received, we have important obligations to ensure that we have carefully reviewed every comment that has been submitted.”
Zeller declined to estimate when the ban would be finalized and take effect, or whether the agency would oppose future legal efforts to force the FDA to take action within a certain amount of time.
“We have announced our goal,” Zeller said. “The organizations that originally applied to us and then the groups that sued us will have to decide for themselves what actions they want to take. And rather than speculating on a possible litigation scenario, we’ll just wait and see how it goes. outside.”
A study cited by the FDA suggests that a ban on menthol cigarettes in the United States would lead to approximately 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 black Americans, in the first year and a half. Another study predicts that 633,000 tobacco-related deaths would be prevented.
While cigarette consumption has declined steadily in recent years, menthol consumption has declined more slowly. Menthol helps mask the harshness of other cigarettes.
The Biden administration is still considering regulations to reduce the levels of nicotine allowed in cigarettes, according to Woodcock.
“We have not completed the deliberations on this issue,” she said.