FDA Announces Plan to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

FDA Announces Plan to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

The tobacco industry has faced a deluge of legislation and regulations aimed at limiting flavors but none like the one announced today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has announced that is is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year that will not only ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes but it will also ban all characterization flavors–including menthol–in cigars. This follows previous actions taken in 2009 that banned other flavored cigarette products and builds on the regulatory power granted to the FDA to regulate tobacco products.

“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. 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, M.D., in a press release from the FDA. “Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact. Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the [Biden] Administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.”

Menthol has been the focus of many flavor bans in recent years due to its perceived appeal among adult consumers. In recent years, many anti-tobacco groups have argued that tobacco companies have used menthol to target African American consumers in particular. In a study cited by the FDA in its announcements [read more here], banning menthol could lead to 923,000 smokers quitting the habit all together, including 230,000 African Americans in the first 13 to 17 months after the ban goes into effect. Another study [read more here] projected that 633,000 deaths would be prevented by banning menthol, and of that amount, 237,000 of those spared from death would be African American smokers.

When discussing its decision to include all flavored cigars in this ban, the FDA stated that following the 2009 statutory ban on flavors in cigarettes and other menthol, there was a dramatic increase in the use of flavored cigars. This, according to the FDA, suggested that the public health goals of the flavored cigarette ban may have been undermined by the the continued availability of flavored cigars. While it’s unclear of what exact cigars would be impacted by this ban, the agency defines flavored cigars as those mass-produced cigars and cigarillos that are “combusted tobacco products that can closely resemble cigarettes.” By this definition, those cigars that resemble cigarillos would be impacted while larger sizes that align more with a “premium” cigar may be spared from the ban, though the FDA has yet to release guidance that makes this clear.

In the press release, Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, stated: “For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally. These flavor standards would reduce cigarette and cigar initiation and use, reduce health disparities, and promote health equity by addressing a significant and disparate source of harm. Taken together, these policies will help save lives and improve the public health of our country as we confront the leading cause of preventable disease and death.”