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Menthol bans linked to lower smoking rates, study shows

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
Almost a quarter of menthol smokers quit smoking altogether after menthol cigarettes were banned in their country or community, researchers reported. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News
Almost a quarter of menthol smokers quit smoking altogether after menthol cigarettes were banned in their country or community, researchers reported. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

A ban on menthol cigarettes would likely lead to a meaningful reduction in smoking rates, a new review argues.

Almost a quarter of menthol smokers quit smoking altogether after menthol cigarettes were banned in their country or community, researchers report Wednesday in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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"This review provides compelling evidence for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's proposed ban on menthol cigarettes," said lead researcher Sarah Mills, an assistant professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In December, the White House in December announced that it would postpone until March a ban on menthol cigarettes that has been in the works for years.

"Our review of the evidence suggests this delay is causing harm to the health of the public, especially among Black communities," Mills said in a journal news release.

Menthol cigarettes have been targeted by public health officials because studies show the cooling effects of menthol masks the harshness of tobacco, making it easier for young people to start smoking.

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For this study, researchers conducted an evidence review, pooling data from studies that have examined the effects of menthol cigarette bans.

More than 170 U.S. cities, two U.S. states, the European Union and several other countries have already banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, researchers said.

About 50% of menthol smokers switched to non-menthol cigarettes following a ban, but another 24% quit smoking altogether, the pooled evidence revealed. About 12% switched to other flavored tobacco products.

National menthol bans appear to be more effective than local or state bans, since quit rates were higher in places with country-wide bans, researchers said.

More than 43% of adult smokers in the United States use menthol cigarettes. That includes 81% of Black smokers and 34% of white smokers.

"A menthol cigarette ban would provide the greatest benefits to Black people who smoke," Mills said. "As a result of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, today every 4 in 5 Black smokers use menthol cigarettes."

When first announced in April 2022, the proposed ban on menthol cigarettes came under immediate attack by some civil rights leaders with ties to Big Tobacco.

These leaders raised concerns that the ban would criminalize menthol cigarettes and be used by police to target Black smokers in potentially deadly confrontations.

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The FDA took these concerns into account when crafting the rule, which would ban the manufacturing and sale of menthol cigarettes but does not empower police to go after smokers, CNN reported.

"This regulation does not include a prohibition on individual consumer possession or use, and FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumers for possession or use of menthol cigarettes," the proposed rule states. "FDA's enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers."

The NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus have endorsed the ban, pointing out that the measure could save hundreds of thousands of Black lives.

"The relentless predatory marketing of menthol-flavored cigarettes employed by the tobacco industry has inflicted devastating consequences on Black communities," Patrice Willoughby, NAACP senior vice president of global policy and impact, said in a statement earlier this month.

"Our message remains clear -- if the Biden Administration truly cares about Black lives, they will act swiftly to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products," Willoughby added.

In its annual "State of Tobacco Control" report, the American Lung Association also took U.S. President Joe Biden to task for delaying the proposed menthol ban.

"Right now, President Biden can take action and save lives if he finalizes the rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars," Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the lung association, said in a news release.

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More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about menthol cigarette smoking.

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