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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Explained: Why is the FDA planning to ban menthol cigarettes in the United States?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced its plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavour additives in cigars within the next year. Why?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 6, 2021 9:14:37 am
Packs of menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products at a store in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu/File)

On Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavour additives in cigars within the next year.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement, “This science-based decision reflects the Biden Administration’s commitment to improve the health of all Americans and to tackle health disparities in our most marginalized communities.”

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But why menthol?

According to the 2009 Tobacco Control Act (TCA), menthol is the only flavour allowed to be used in cigarettes marketed in the US. But the agency is now trying to take action to reduce tobacco addiction and cut smoking-related deaths.

To achieve this goal, the FDA believes that banning menthol cigarettes will help. “There is strong evidence that a menthol ban will help people quit. Studies show that menthol increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among youth and young adults,” the FDA said in a statement. The agency further notes that menthol cigarettes are easier for an individual use because they mask the unpleasant flavours and harshness of tobacco products.

There is also the concern that there are more Black users of menthol cigarettes. According to The New York Times, since the 1950s, menthol cigarettes have been marketed to the Black smokers in the US. The FDA notes that there are over 18.6 million users of menthol cigarettes in the US and out of all Black smokers, about 85 percent smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 30 percent of White smokers who smoke menthol cigarettes.

As per a study published in BMJ Journals, banning menthol cigarettes in seven Canadian provinces between 2016-2018 led to 21.5 percent quitting smoking, while about 59.1 percent switched to non-menthol cigarettes. The study noted that menthol cigarette smokers were more likely than non-menthol cigarette smokers to make an attempt to quit. “Although menthol smokers were most likely to switch to non-menthol cigarettes, the menthol ban was also significantly associated with higher rates of quit attempts and quit success among menthol smokers compared with non-menthol smokers, and may have helped to prevent relapse among menthol smokers who had quit smoking before the ban,” the study noted.

Even so, critics have said that banning menthol cigarettes may not achieve the intended results and that it may create a black market for the product. Legal and advocacy organisation ACLU wrote a letter to Becerra after reports of FDA’s decision emerged. In the letter ACLU said that a ban on menthol cigarettes would have “serious racial justice implications” and that a ban would trigger criminal penalties, which would disproportionately impact people of colour.

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