Menthol Cigarettes Banned By FDA In 'Historic, Life-Saving Step'

The dangers of tobacco are well documented, and although smoking cessation initiatives have made considerable progress over the decades, smoking remains a stubborn health issue.

Health authorities have taken many steps to discourage smoking, most obviously with warning labels on cigarettes, the removal of cigarette vending machines, and providing fewer and fewer public spaces that allow smoking.

However, up to now, regulators have only placed an outright ban on flavored cigarettes — but that's about to change in a big way.

Menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are on the chopping block after the FDA announced it would be banning the products.

Unsplash | Mathew MacQuarrie

In a statement, the FDA's acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, explained that the agency was taking the action based on the evidence of the products' harmfulness and addictiveness.

"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," Dr. Woodcock said.

Menthol has been shown to be a particularly harmful additive to cigarettes, according to the FDA.

"Studies show that menthol increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among youth and young adults," the FDA said.

"Menthol masks unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using. Tobacco products with menthol can also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine."

The FDA statement also cited a pair of studies that showed the positive health impacts of a menthol cigarette ban.

Unsplash | Larry Crayton

One study, published in BMJ, found that a menthol cigarette ban in the U.S. would lead to 923,000 smokers quitting — including 230,000 African Americans — within the first 13 to 17 months of the ban.

The other study, published in AJPH, predicted that a menthol cigarette ban would avert about 633,000 deaths, including those of up to 237,000 African Americans.

The menthol cigarette ban wouldn't affect all smokers equally, but that's part of the point of the ban: promoting health equity.

"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," Dr. Woodcock added.

As NBC News reported, about 85% of Black smokers in America smoke menthols, and they are more likely than white smokers to be diagnosed with lung cancer at advanced stages.

Although it will take up to two years to implement the ban fully, advocates aren't against that as it will give time for smokers to prepare and start the cessation process.

"The FDA has taken a historic, lifesaving step," said Dr. Richard Besser, former director of the CDC and president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement, NBC News reported. "Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs."

The FDA stressed, however, that the ban would not affect individuals — rather, the ban only addressed "manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers."

h/t: NBC News

Filed Under: