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FDA Poised to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

THURSDAY, April 29, 2021 -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes, a move that the agency has tried before and one that public health experts and civil rights groups have pushed for years.

Menthol cigarettes have been marketed aggressively to Black Americans for decades: About 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol brands, the FDA said, and research shows menthol cigarettes are harder to quit than plain tobacco products.

The agency said it will also seek to ban menthol and other flavors in mass-produced cigars, including small cigars popular with young people. The action will "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," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said during a morning media briefing on the proposed ban. And "flavored tobacco, including flavors found in some cigars and cigarillos, makes smoking more appealing by reducing initial aversive responses, particularly for young people," she added.

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, said during the briefing that the health costs of menthol cigarettes has been particularly punishing for Black Americans. "For far too long, certain populations have been targeted and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Furthermore, 85 percent of all Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to just 30 percent of White smokers," he said.

"One study showed that from 1980 to 2018, menthol cigarette smoking was linked to 378,000 premature deaths, 3 million life-years lost, and 10.1 million new smokers," Zeller added. "Another study suggests that banning menthol cigarettes in the United States would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit -- including 230,000 African Americans -- in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect."

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