WASHINGTON – Biden administration announced plansto push for a ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been the target of anti-smoking advocates and civil rights activists who say the industry has aggressively marketed to black Americans.
“Through these measures, the FDA will help dramatically reduce youth initiation, increase the odds of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities in communities of color, low-income populations and families. LGBTQ + people, all of whom are much more likely to use these tobacco products, ”said Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the FDA, in a press release.
The smoking ban would not require congressional approval, but the Food and Drug Administration would have to submit rule proposals and seek public comment. A final ban could take years and would likely be challenged in court by the tobacco industry, which has repeatedly sued the FDA to block anti-smoking regulations.
“For too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted and disproportionately affected by smoking. Despite the tremendous progress we have made in getting people to quit smoking over the past 55 years, this progress has not been experienced by everyone in the same way, ”added Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for tobacco products from the FDA, in a statement.
In 2018, the FDA decided to limit flavored e-cigarette products that appealed to children, including fruit and mint, but menthol was not included. It came nine years after the agency banned cigarettes with “distinctive flavors other than menthol,” which also appealed to young people.
A citizens’ petition filed in 2013 by national public health advocates called on the FDA to ban menthol as one of these “signature flavors”. The FDA was due to respond to this petition on Thursday.
Smoking has declined in recent years, but smoking remains a leading source of illness and death in the United States and around the world, especially among people of color.
Young people and African Americans are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 54% of smokers aged 12 to 17 use menthol, and 7 in 10 African American smokers in this age group smoke menthol cigarettes. Non-Hispanic black adults smoke menthol cigarettes the most, according to the CDC.
The ACLU is among those likely to oppose such an initiative. In 2020, when a House bill proposed a ban on menthol among other flavored tobacco products, the rights group said such action would have disproportionate impacts on communities of color. In a letter at the time to the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Trade, the ACLU noted that criminal penalties arising from the application of such a ban would hit minority communities harder.
CDC: Majority of black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes
Public health experts say the ban is an important opportunity to improve the lives of black Americans.
The majority of black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes, according to the CDC, and a majority who have started smoking have started using menthol cigarettes. The product is more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes, according to studies, and has a cooling effect on the body.
Ruqaiijah Yearby, a public health policy lawyer, is director of the Institute for Healing, Justice and Equity at St. Louis University. His article, “Just to Get By: Poverty, Racism, and Smoking” in an upcoming Cambridge University Press, explores structural inequalities and the policies that perpetuate tobacco-related disparities. She said politicians must also implement strategies to fill the gaps.
“My concern … is that we will get through some of these policies without making sure they cover the most vulnerable … that they address the disproportionate impact on blacks and Latin Americans,” Yearby said.
Researchers have long known about disparities in menthol cigarette use and its detrimental effects on black communities – and they have long viewed it as a pediatric problem: among black teens ages 12 to 17 who used tobacco 71% smoked menthol, according to the CDC.
“We’ve known about it, I mean, forever – but definitely the start of the decade,” Yearby said, recalling the backsliding of advocacy on the issue.
Notice:With menthol cigarettes, Big Tobacco targets the lives of black people. Don’t allow death to profit.
Blacks are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than whites, and smoking in general is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer, and stroke among black Americans.
“Big Tobacco over the past 60 years has really targeted the African American community,” said Tampa-based pediatrician Dr. Toni Richards-Rowley, vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The doctor also sits on the AAP’s health equity and government affairs committees.
She pointed to billboards featuring black models and advertisements in magazines with predominantly black readership.
“This is a problem. Targeting children, and certainly black children, with a highly addictive product creates adults who are addicted to menthol cigarettes,” she said. results are extraordinary. ”
She said the dangers and risk factors associated with menthol smoking are further emphasized as black communities and other people of color suffer disproportionately from COVID-19. The health effects of smoking are a “perfect storm” for the unwanted outcomes of COVID-19.
“It has languished in front of the FDA for over a decade,” she said. “Now is the time to act. Now is the time to make a change.”
Contributor: Matthew Brown, USA TODAY