HomeFDA Moves to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

FDA Moves to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it is moving towards banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, saying this was based on evidence that these lead to addiction and cause harm.

The FDA announced that it will issue proposed tobacco product standards within the next year that will ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

Menthol was the only flavor allowed in cigarettes. 

“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

How we got here

Woodcock said issuing the proposed tobacco product standards represented powerful science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact.

“Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.,” added Woodcock.

It was reported that the FDA is claiming authority under Section 907 of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) to restrict the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products. Section 907 allows the Human and Health Services (HHS) secretary, through FDA (an HHS subagency), to “adopt tobacco product standards … if the Secretary finds that a tobacco product standard is appropriate for the protection of the public health.” 

In early 2021, a coalition of 23 attorneys general submitted a petition for rulemaking asking FDA to prohibit menthol cigarettes. The attorneys general pleaded that a prohibition should be implemented urgently.

In 2020, the FDA was sued by the Action on Smoking & Health, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the American Medical Association. The groups claimed the FDA was failing to regulate menthol cigarettes despite urging from Congress in 2009 when the agency banned other cigarette flavors, including candy, coffee and fruit.


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Ethnic minorities face higher risk

Menthol cigarettes are widely marketed to the African American community. The FDA cited a study that suggested that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect. The FDA said an earlier study projected that about 633,000 deaths would be averted, including about 237,000 deaths averted for African Americans.

“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally. These flavor standards would reduce cigarette and cigar initiation and use, reduce health disparities, and promote health equity by addressing a significant and disparate source of harm. Taken together, these policies will help save lives and improve the public health of our country as we confront the leading cause of preventable disease and death,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said the ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes was long overdue.

“For decades, data have shown that the tobacco industry has successfully and intentionally marketed mentholated cigarettes to African Americans and particularly African American women as ‘replacement smokers’; that menthol smokers have a harder time quitting smoking; and that tobacco use is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer, and stroke – three leading causes of death among African Americans.  The ban by the FDA is long overdue to protect the health of African Americans and to reduce the deleterious impact of menthol smoking and tobacco use overall on America’s health,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

Obviously, tobacco companies are not too happy about this.

Tobacco giant Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, told NPR that the ban won’t work.

“We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work. A far better approach is to support the establishment of a marketplace of FDA-authorized non-combustible alternatives that are attractive to adult smokers,” Altria spokesman George Parman said.

The debate over the banning of flavoured cigarettes and vaping has been raging for a while in the U.S.

Vaping was initially seen as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but newer studies argue that e-cigarettes may be as deadly as tobacco.

In 2020, the FDA issued a partial ban on e-cigarettes.