Menthol Cigarettes May Soon Be Banned by the FDA

( – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is getting ready for a new ban on menthol cigarettes. This is a move it’s been planning for years but has never quite gotten around to. Now, it looks like it’s finally ready to act.

Anti-smoking campaigners hate all cigarettes, but they have a special dislike for menthol. They also have an unlikely ally —civil rights activists. Menthol cigarettes are particularly popular with black Americans —around 85% of cigarettes they buy are menthols. The smoking rate among black Americans is actually lower than for whites —11.7%, compared to 12.9%— but activists argue that without menthol cigarettes, it would be lower still.

The FDA has been under pressure to ban menthols for years; in 2013, health groups filed a petition calling for a ban, and then in 2020, they sued the agency for not responding in a reasonable time. In April 2021, the FDA said it would take action, and the next year it put forward a formal proposal. Tobacco companies are likely to fight back; they argue there’s no evidence that menthols make people more likely to start or keep smoking. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and some other civil rights groups are also unhappy, because of fears that a menthol ban would lead to disproportionate extra policing of black Americans.

Now it looks like, for better or worse, the ban is on its way at last. In mid-October, the FDA submitted the final version of its proposal to the White House, which means the administration will probably issue a new regulation soon. The question is what will happen next. With menthol off the market —or the legal market, anyway— will smokers quit or simply switch to normal cigarettes?

If the ban works the same way it did in Canada, over a million Americans could quit smoking, but Canada is a very different country.

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