The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it is proposing a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes in the United States. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
April 29 (UPI) -- The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it is proposing a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes in the United States.
The announcement begins a long regulatory process, resulting in menthol cigarettes being available for about two more years even if the ban is eventually adopted. The tobacco industry is expected to challenge the decision.
The FDA decision would also ban all flavored cigars. The agency did not include menthol-flavored electronic cigarettes. Menthol is the last allowable flavor for cigarettes.
The proposed ban was prompted by a citizen petition that allows the public to request policy changes at the FDA. A court ruled in favor of a resulting lawsuit that accused the FDA of unreasonably delaying its final response to the petition asking for a ban, which was filed in 2013.
The agency faced a deadline of Thursday to respond
Menthol cigarettes cause more harm to Black Americans, research suggests. Black men currently have the highest rates of lung cancer in the country.
"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," said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, in a press release.
Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the FDA has taken "a historic, lifesaving step."
"Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs," he said, according to NBC News.
The lawsuit seeking the ban was filed by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and Action on Smoking and Health.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85% of Black American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes compared to 29% of White smokers.
A spokesman for Altria, one of the world's largest producers and marketers of tobacco, said in a statement that "criminalizing menthol" would have "serious unintended consequences."
The tobacco industry has specifically marketed menthol cigarettes to Black Americans in the past, including sponsoring musical events like a jazz festival and racing teams named for the Kool brand, AATCLC co-chair Phillip Gardiner told The Washington Post.
The FDA has previously attempted to ban menthol cigarettes in the United States. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb led the most recent failed effort in 2018.
The tobacco industry has spent millions over the years lobbying Congress to oppose a possible ban. The industry has said menthol cigarettes are no more harmful than regular cigarettes and proposed bans have drawn bipartisan opposition from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and civil rights groups.