FDA Announces Plans to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is moving towards prohibiting the sale of menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and mass-produced cigars within the next year. The FDA reportedly granted a citizen petition requesting that the agency ban the last-allowed flavor of cigarettes.

The press release claimed that scientific evidence established the addictiveness and harm wrought by flavored cigarettes. The agency explained that its action is driven by a desire to reduce tobacco addiction and curb deaths. According to the press release, studies showed that menthol “increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among youth and young adults.”

The FDA claimed that this week’s action builds on previous steps it has taken with other flavored tobacco products. Since the enactment of the 2009 Tobacco Control Act (TCA), which did not include menthol in its ban on characterizing flavors in cigarettes, the FDA has made efforts to better grasp the differences between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes and the impact of menthol on population health.

Additionally, the press release stated, “strong evidence” demonstrates that a menthol ban will help people quit. The proposed ban addressed what Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., described as the “disparate source of harm” menthol cigarettes inflict on communities of color as well as low-income and LGBTQ+ populations, whose members are reportedly far more likely to use these types of tobacco products.

The FDA noted that if implemented, it will only enforce the ban against manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers, and not individual consumers possessing or using menthol tobacco products. Instead, the FDA explained that its job is to ensure that unlawful tobacco products do not make their way onto the market.

According to a New York Times article by Sheila Kaplan published the same day as the FDA’s press release, the agency was forced to act by court deadline. As Law Street Media previously reported, anti-smoking groups sued the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, and their leaders over the lapsed re-evaluation of tobacco product standards and slow enactment of a menthol cigarette ban. 

As to the probability of the proposal’s success, The New York Times commented that “the odds are unlikely that a ban would take effect anytime soon, because any proposal is likely to wind up in a protracted court battle.”