In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which limited cigarette flavors to tobacco and menthol. The Food and Drug Administration now proposes to expand this ban to menthol cigarettes, as well as cigar flavorings other than tobacco. This ban could have a sweeping impact. As of 2019, about 18.5 million Americans smoked menthol cigarettes. These products are especially popular among young smokers. The FDA thus believes that banning menthol cigarettes can stop many children from becoming addicted to smoking early in life, while encouraging some adult smokers to abandon the habit.
A ban also may improve health equity, since menthol cigarettes tend to be disproportionately popular among African-Americans. Supporters of the ban believe that rates of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions will drop significantly, with African-American communities seeing an especially dramatic effect. The NAACP recently urged the FDA to adopt this ban, noting that tobacco companies have targeted these communities relentlessly for a long time.
The FDA believes that clear scientific evidence supports the ban, but it likely will face stiff resistance from the tobacco industry because so much money is at stake. Some opponents of the ban argue that it will not eliminate menthol cigarettes but instead will drive them underground into criminal markets. This could worsen the problem by increasing their availability to young children and allowing them to circulate free from any regulations.
Notice and comment procedures apply to rules proposed by federal administrative agencies. Accordingly, the FDA will seek comments from the public on the proposed ban for 60 days. If the agency moves forward with finalizing the rule after that time, as is expected, tobacco companies may eventually pursue litigation to thwart its enforcement.
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