FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

FDA moves to ban menthol cigs, flavored cigars

Anti-smoking advocates cheer, while some fear surge in the black market

Rule-making process means change won’t happen swiftly

By Tom Howell Jr.

The Biden administration moved Thursday to ban menthol cigarettes and certain flavored cigars, fulfilling a long-time aspiration of anti-smoking groups who say the products harm minority communities while sparking a debate about government overreach and unfair prosecution.

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to begin the removal will help “our most marginalized communities” and accelerate the decrease in overall tobacco use.

“Tobacco-related death and disease must become a part of America’s past. These public health measures will save lives,” he said.

“Banning menthol in cigarettes and flavors in cigars will decrease the appeal of these tobacco products and strengthen health equity,” he said. “Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that over time will help end the cycle of children becoming the next generation of smokers and eliminate long-perpetuated health disparities.”

Advocates praised the move, saying Big Tobacco targeted youth and Black communities by advertising these products to them for years. But they want the FDA  to speed things up.

The change won’t happen overnight, since the rulemaking process can take years.

“While the FDA said it would issue proposed rules within the next year, we urge the FDA to expedite this time frame and move swiftly to propose, finalize and implement the necessary regulations to turn this decision into life-saving action,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock cited a study that says a ban would force an additional 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans in the first 13 to 17 months after a prohibition takes effect.

She also characterized the move as a continuation of President Biden’s focus on equity in policy-making. She said communities of color, poorer populations, and LGBTQ persons are all “far more likely to use these tobacco products.”

Yet others said the move will force menthol users into the black market for the products, exposing them to criminal prosecution.

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that introducing prohibition will do nothing to reduce smoking rates, but will expose minorities to further over-policing, and the dangers this brings,” said Tim Andrews, director of Consumer Issues at Americans for Tax Reform. “While the majority of menthol smokers will switch to non-menthol tobacco, over 20% will continue to purchase on the black market, not only exposing them to persecution but funding sophisticated international criminal syndicates.”

The group said the administration should focus on less harmful, non-combustible nicotine delivery systems like vaping as a way to wean people off smoking.

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