FDA Makes A ‘Historic, Lifesaving Step’ By Moving Forward With A Ban On Menthol Cigarettes And Flavored Cigars

April 29, 2021

By Kana Ruhalter

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced they would be initiating their plan to ban menthol tobacco cigarettes and flavored cigars. The move is expected to help Black communities significantly; 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, and Black men have the highest lung cancer death rate in the country. 

FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock is optimistic about the positive effects this move will provide, saying in a statement:

"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.”

Public health officials are hailing the plan as they expect it to improve the health of children and Black Americans, the two cohorts of the population most likely to smoke menthol products. Despite the caveat of the process—the regulations do not include menthol-flavored e-cigarettes in the ban—officials are confident in the move. 

"The FDA has taken a historic, lifesaving step," Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in a statement. "Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs." 

Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association, called the move “game-changing,” writing in a statement that almost half of all kids choose menthol products for their first time experimenting with cigarettes. Experts add that because most adults start smoking as teenagers, a menthol ban may dramatically reduce the number of people who begin smoking.

A 2013 citizen-petition-turned lawsuit prompted the FDA to make a move. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Action on Smoking and Health sued on behalf of the petitioners due to the administration’s lack of response to the urge to ban menthol in cigarettes. 

Thursday’s announcement was the beginning of many steps to transition to a menthol-free market. Studies estimate menthol cigarettes will continue to be available for at least two more years.