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FDA Announces Bans on Menthol Cigarettes and Cigars

The United States Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it is banning menthol and other “characterization flavors” in cigarettes and cigars due to the extreme health risks associated with menthol-flavored tobacco products.

Photo by Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

The agency explained its decision in a press release:

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it is committing to advancing two tobacco product standards to significantly reduce disease and death from using combusted tobacco products, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The FDA is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars; the authority to adopt product standards is one of the most powerful tobacco regulatory tools Congress gave the agency. This decision is based on clear science and evidence establishing the addictiveness and harm of these products and builds on important, previous actions that banned other flavored cigarettes in 2009.

The FDA said that one of the reasons behind the ban is the addictive nature of menthol itself. Eliminating it from tobacco products, the agency said, would prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths every year:

There is strong evidence that a menthol ban will help people quit. Studies show that menthol increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among youth and young adults. Menthol masks unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using. Tobacco products with menthol can also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine. One studyExternal Link Disclaimer suggests that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. 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. An earlier studyExternal Link Disclaimer projected that about 633,000 deaths would be averted, including about 237,000 deaths averted for African Americans.

The ban is not total, however, as it does not prohibit individuals from possessing or consuming menthol additives:

If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product. The FDA will work to make sure that any unlawful tobacco products do not make their way onto the market.



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