FDA announces proposed ban on menthol flavored cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavors of cigars, a move that could further lower smoking rates in the United States.

The FDA will seek public comment before finalizing the rule, a process that could take years. But proponents say it’s a step in the right direction, pointing to a research model that estimates banning these flavors could lead to a 15% drop in tobacco use by 2026.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States, menthol cigarettes account for more than a third of cigarette sales, with nearly 19 million users. Black Americans have disproportionately high rates of menthol smoking, a consequence of years of targeted racial advertising.

In fact, 85% of black smokers use menthol cigarettes compared to 30% of white smokers, according to the FDA. Additionally, other groups have been successfully targeted by various marketing strategies, including youth, women, low-income and LGBTQ communities, according to Dr. Andrea Villanti, associate professor in the Department of Behaviors, Society and health policy at the Rutgers School of Public Health. and Deputy Director of the Center for Tobacco Studies.

Menthol added to cigarettes and cigars results in a cooling effect when inhaling smoke, Villanti said.

“It actually dampens any sort of respiratory response to the smoke being an irritant. So it kind of makes the smoke easier,” she explained. “Especially for a youngster or someone who has never used the product before.”

She added, “[Menthol] helps people get started, it’s harder to quit.

According to an FDA report, smokers of menthol cigarettes, especially black American smokers, are less likely to successfully quit smoking than smokers of non-menthol cigarettes. Robin Koval, CEO and president of the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization committed to smoking cessation, said nearly half of black smokers would try to quit if there was a no smoking rule. menthol.

Several countries and governing bodies, including the European Union, Canada, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Turkey, as well as some US states and municipalities, including Massachusetts and Washington, DC, have already banned menthol.

Canada, which banned menthol cigarettes in 2017, is already seeing the effects. Research by a team from the University of Toronto found high levels of quitting behavior among menthol smokers, with 24% of daily menthol smokers quitting at one year and 12% at two years. .

“The Canadian experience shows that it is certainly possible to eliminate menthol and other additives from cigarettes,” said Dr. Michael Chaiton, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. .

According to Chaiton, a US ban is “likely to save hundreds of thousands of lives”.

But in the United States, the ban on menthol and other flavors won’t take effect overnight. The process of developing the rules and implementing the ban could take several years, according to Kevin Schroth, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s Center for Tobacco Studies.

Meanwhile, education and good communication with the public will be important to “reduce misperceptions about the purpose of the ban,” according to Vallanti, as well as provide patients with the resources to quit smoking.

“The tobacco companies are the target…not the communities,” Vallanti said.

Koval said a comprehensive ban that would include not only menthol cigarettes but also flavored cigars would reduce “loophole” options to circumvent the ban.

Because young and black Americans are the primary smokers of menthol and other flavors, a ban “has the potential to improve health equity,” Vallanti said.

“The removal of flavors from the market, as a whole, will prevent the initiation of another generation to become addicted to nicotine and lifelong customers of the tobacco industry,” Koval said. “Phasing out menthol cigarettes will have significant health effects, especially for the populations…who are most vulnerable: young people, people of color.”

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