The US Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars, including menthol flavor, within the next year, according to an agency announcement Thursday.
The aim is to "significantly reduce disease and death" from using these two products. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"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," Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said 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."
The FDA said it will work to create new product standards within the next year. The regulations would only apply to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and importers so that the product would never make it to the market. The agency cannot take action against individuals who would possess or use menthol tobacco products.
More than a third of all the cigarettes sold in the United States in 2018 -- the last year for which statistics were available -- were menthol flavored, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Studies show that menthol flavoring increases the appeal of tobacco products and can lead people, particularly young people, to become regular smokers. Advertisers of menthol-flavored cigarettes have disproportionately targeted the Black community.
Mentholated brands of tobacco products have been heavily marketed to racial minorities resulting in disproportionate use. More than 85% of mentholated brand users are Black, nearly 47% are Hispanic, 38% are Asian, nearly 29% are White, according to the CDC.
Menthol flavoring is also believed to be more addictive and harder to quit. One study showed that if menthol was banned, within a little over a year, it would lead 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans.
Menthol-flavored cigarettes are considered a "tremendous public health threat" for kids, according to the Tobacco Free Kids organization. Pediatricians have long called for a ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol. For novice smokers, the taste of a cigarette can be too harsh, whereas, flavors make it easier for beginners to try the product.
On Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the announcement from the US Food and Drug Administration, calling this an "important step forward."
"This long overdue decision will protect future generations of young people from nicotine addiction, especially Black children and communities, which have disproportionately suffered from menthol tobacco use due to targeted efforts from the tobacco industry," the AAP said in a statement. "While the American Academy of Pediatrics commends the FDA's announcement, it is only a first step that must be followed with urgent, comprehensive action to remove these flavored products from the market."