The FDA is moving to ban menthol in tobacco products

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that in a year it will ban menthol in cigarettes, as well as all flavors, including menthol in cigars.

Menthol makes it easier to start smoking and also improves the effects of nicotine, making it more addictive and harder to quit, the FDA said. in a statement Thursday.

Nineteen organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the National Medical Association, have been pushing the FDA to ban menthol for years. The agency banned all flavors of cigarettes in 2009, but took no action against menthol. In 2013, the groups filed a citizen petition demanding the FDA ban ban menthol. The agency responded months later with a notice which would begin the process.

But he never took any action. Action on Smoking and Health and the African American Leadership Council for Tobacco Control, which was later joined by the AMA and the NMA, sued in 2020 force the agency to do something. Now, the FDA has finally acted.

The AATCLC welcomed the move, but said the fight is not over and encouraged tobacco control activists to fight to ban menthol tobacco products at the local, state and federal levels. “We know that this rule-making process can take years, and we know that the tobacco industry will continue to do everything in its power to derail any attempt to remove its deadly products from the market,” said Phillip Gardiner, MD, co-AATCLC. chair, in a statement.

The AMA urges the FDA to quickly enforce the ban and remove the products “without further delay,” AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, said in the statement.

“The FDA’s long-awaited decision to take steps to eliminate menthol aroma in cigarettes and all flavors of cigars puts an end to decades of deference to the tobacco industry, which has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to benefit of the products that result in death, ”said Lisa Lacasse, MBA, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), in a statement.

Lacasse said the ban on menthol will help eliminate health inequalities, noting that 86% of blacks who smoke use menthol cigarettes, compared to 46% of Hispanics who smoke, 39% of Asians who smoke and 29% of whites who smoke. “FDA actions today send a clear message that Big Tobacco’s strategy to take advantage of addictive black communities will no longer be tolerated,” he said.

However, not all groups are there. The ACLU and several other organizations wrote to the top health officials in the country urging them to reconsider.

“This ban will lead to criminal sanctions that will disproportionately affect people of color, in addition to prioritizing criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter says. “The ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”

The letter says the proposed ban is “well-intentioned,” but states that any effort to reduce death and tobacco-related illnesses “should avoid solutions that will create another reason for the armed police to involve citizens on the street based on -be under a pretext or conduct that does not pose a threat to public safety. “

Instead of a ban, according to organizations, policymakers should consider increased education for adults and minors, smoking cessation programs, and increased funding for health communities in colorful communities.

However, the Biden administration insisted that banning menthol would have many positive aspects.

Said FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD in a statement that the ban on menthol “will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase smoking cessation among current smokers, and address the health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ + people , who are much more likely to use tobacco products. “

The FDA cited data showing that in the first year or so after the ban went into effect, they would stop smoking an additional 923,000, including 230,000 African Americans. Another study suggests that 633,000 deaths would be avoided, including 237,000 black Americans.

Woodcock added that “armed with strong scientific evidence and the full support of the administration, we believe these actions will initiate us on a path toward the end of tobacco-related disease and death in the United States.”

Said the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra in a statement that “banning menthol from cigarettes and flavors from cigars will decrease the attractiveness of these tobacco products and strengthen equity in health.”

The FDA estimates that 18.6 million Americans who currently smoke use menthol cigarettes, with a disproportionately high number of blacks. The use of menthol cigarettes among black and Hispanic youth increased from 2011 to 2018, but decreased for non-Hispanic white youth.

Flavored mass-produced cigars and cigarettes are disproportionately popular among young people, especially non-Hispanic black high school students, who in 2020 reported smoking cigarettes for 30 days at levels twice as high as their white counterparts, he said. the FDA. Three-quarters of 12- to 17-year-olds report smoking cigars because they like the flavors. In 2020, more young people tried a cigarette every day than a cigarette, the agency reports.

“This long – awaited decision will protect future generations of young people nicotine addiction, especially children and black communities, who have suffered disproportionately from menthol tobacco use due to the specific efforts of the tobacco industry, “said Lee Savio Beers, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. in a statement.

“Pediatricians have long sounded the alarm about how the tobacco industry has used flavors to entice children and teens into their dangerous and addictive products: Menthol, with its refreshing mint flavor, is no different.” he said. Savio Beers said tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death among black Americans and that it claims 45,000 black lives each year.

The FDA announcement “is just a first step that needs to be followed with comprehensive and urgent action to remove these flavored products from the market,” he said.

“We congratulate the FDA for finally moving to prevent tobacco companies from targeting black communities, young people and others with menthol cigarettes that make it easier to start smoking and make it harder to quit,” the director said. general of the American Heart Association, Nancy Brown. in a statement.

“The sinister history of the tobacco industry in targeting price promotions and discounts for menthol cigarettes in black communities has caused 85% of black smokers to choose menthol,” he said, adding that the AHA also is pleased with the FDA’s intention to ban flavored cigars, which “appeal to both adults who have never smoked and former smokers and encourage the dual use of cigars and cigarettes.” Removing them “would be a major victory for public health.”

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), as well welcomed the FDA announcement, saying: “This plague against public health has targeted the black community and has directly worsened the already problematic health disparities.”

Benjamin added: “If we want to create the healthiest nation in a generation, we must start doing so by reversing harmful practices that have been deeply rooted in our culture, and current development does just that.”

Ten Black civil rights organizations, the Black Congress Caucus, and social justice organizations have urged HHS and the FDA to ban menthol.

Matthew L. Myers, JD, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children, said in a statement that the tobacco industry is already falsely claiming that the rules “will subject black Americans to more police abuse.” Myers notes that the FDA said its application will focus on manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers, and that “it cannot do and will not apply against the possession or use of individual consumers of menthol cigarettes or any product. of tobacco “.

“The cynical fear of the tobacco industry cannot hide the fact that it is the industry itself that has caused so much harm to black Americans through the specific marketing of menthol cigarettes,” said Myers, who Biden’s administration “deserves huge credit for standing up to the tobacco industry and announcing this bold and life-saving policy today.”

Myers also urged the federal government to continue efforts to help smokers quit smoking, noting that smoking cessation is “more critical than ever” because smoking increases the risk of serious COVID-19-related illnesses, which has disproportionately affected communities of color.

Alicia Ault is a freelance journalist based in Lutherville, Maryland, whose work has appeared in publications such as Smithsonian.com, the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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