The news about FDA banning menthol in cigarettes has been doing rounds since April. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the ban is likely to impose on all menthol-flavored cigars and cigarettes.
These menthol cigarettes produce less smoke in comparison to the traditional ones. These cigarettes have been playing an outsized role in hooking up the younger generation to smoke.
It was in 2018 when FDA explicitly promised about banning menthol; the decision backed off due to the intense pushbacks from the tobacco industries and its allies.
Banning menthol, one of the last allowable flavors in cigarettes and cigars, will help save lives, particularly among those affected disproportionately by these toxic products.
Even though it is good news for many, it is still unclear when the ban will go into effect. The decision taken by FDA in the press release did not mention any specific date to impose the ban. Instead, they promised that they would develop the regulations to ban these products ‘within the next year.’ FDA officials also declined the requests made by STAT’s to provide them with an estimate about when the ban will get finalized.
The director of the FDA’s tobacco center revealed the impossibility to predict and the need to consider many things that start right from the legal considerations.
The ban also comes on the heels of similar decisions by Canada and the European Union. Several states, including California and Massachusetts, have also attempted enacting menthol bans.
Many public advocates who have been insisting on banning menthol as it will help ease health disparities between Black and White Americans also celebrated this move. As per their argument, the Black Americans smoke menthol at a much higher rate than any other racial group in the U.S. as the tobacco industry is vaguely targeting their menthol marketing mostly towards the Black communities.
Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, cited a study claiming that the U.S. menthol ban is likely to prompt about 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans in the first 13 to 17 months after the ban goes into effect.
Tobacco companies are likely to challenge the decision in court. The argument to be put up in the court would be that the FDA does not have any legal justifications in regulating menthol cigarettes any differently from any other forms of smoked tobacco. But if the FDA’s decision stands, then it would decimate approximately one-third of the U.S. cigarette market, which could cost the industry billions.
Former CDC Director Richard Besser said about how the FDA has taken a historic decision and is the life-saving step for many. The menthol in tobacco is solely responsible for making millions of people addict to the toxic products and ultimately costing lives. Banning menthol cigarettes will make sure to save lives by eliminating great suffering and reducing health care costs.
People who oppose the ban say about how it will fuel the black markets for the products and lead smokers to other types of cigarettes.
Many countries have also shown evidence that the menthol ban is not a magic wand, and you can expect it to spur out most users on quitting the nicotine entirely. You are not likely to get a massive public health benefit of the response from most of the menthol and little smokers of cigars to switch to Marlboros or use illicit products to be bought off the street.
Many public health groups are arguing that the ban will push smokers to finally quitting. As per the recent research published in the BMJ, about 21.5% of Canadian smokers quit smoking after the Canadian ban. But it also came out as a surprise that about 59.1% switched to non-menthol cigarettes while another 19.5% smoked menthols sold by First Nation tribes.
Many civil rights groups have a significant concern if the ban on menthol cigarettes would increase policing of the Black neighborhoods. As per the agency’s statement, the FDA promised that the ban would only target the “retailers, importers, wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers of the menthol products.
The FDA will not and cannot enforce by going against individual consumer possession using tobacco products or menthol cigarettes. The decision by the FDA has come out to be the result of the lawsuit which the public health groups brought. These health groups filed lawsuits against the agency in 2020 after failing to respond to their so-called citizen petition from 2013 (calling on the FDA to ban tobacco products).
The agency did not move forward as per the plan last time, but let’s see if they will fulfill their promise this time.
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