KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 – The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday announced a proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and all cigar flavourings, except tobacco.
The agency, in a statement, said the move has the potential to significantly reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco product use by “reducing youth experimentation and addiction” and increasing the number of smokers that quit.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” US health and human services secretary Xavier Becerra said. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
The proposed product standards are based on “clear science and evidence” that establish the addictive nature and harm of the flavoured products, the FDA said.
“Banning menthol – the last allowable flavour – in cigarettes and banning all flavours 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 colour, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” said acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock in a separate statement.
The proposal builds on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which banned all cigarette flavours, other than tobacco and menthol, in 2009.
Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer in the US, according to the FDA, with approximately 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in the US caused by smoking.
The proposed regulations do not include a prohibition on individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or flavoured cigars.
FDA enforcement will only apply to manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers who manufacture, distribute, or sell such products within the US that are not in compliance with the requirements.
The FDA will work to make sure that any unlawful tobacco products do not make their way into the market.
Menthol is a flavour additive with a minty taste and aroma that reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking. This increases appeal and makes menthol cigarettes easier to use, particularly for youth and young adults.
Menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects.
The combination of menthol’s flavour, sensory effects, and interaction with nicotine in the brain increases the likelihood that youth who start using menthol cigarettes will progress to regular use. Menthol also makes it more difficult for people to quit smoking.
In 2019, there were more than 18.5 million current menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the US, equivalent to 36 per cent of all smokers, the FDA said. Rates of menthol cigarette use were higher among youth and in African American communities.
Removing menthol in cigarettes and cigars could have a significant effect on the number of smokers, the FDA said. By one estimate, it could prevent 650,000 premature deaths caused by smoking over the next 40 years.
Another modelling study estimated that if the US had implemented a menthol cigarette ban in 2011, between 323,000 and 633,000 deaths would be averted by 2050, with nearly a third of the averted deaths being among African Americans.
When finalised, the proposed menthol product standard will reduce the appeal of cigarettes, particularly to youth and young adults, decreasing the likelihood that non-users who would otherwise experiment with menthol cigarettes would progress to regular smoking.
It will also improve the health and reduce the mortality risk of current menthol cigarette smokers by decreasing cigarette consumption and increasing the likelihood of cessation, the FDA said.
Flavoured Cigar Products
Cigar flavours, such as strawberry, grape, cocoa and fruit punch, increase appeal and make cigars easier to use, particularly among youth and young adults.
More than a half million youth in the US use flavoured cigars, and in recent years more young people have tried a cigar every day than tried a cigarette, the agency said.
When finalised, the product standard will reduce the appeal of cigars, particularly to youth and young adults, and decrease the likelihood of experimentation, development of nicotine dependence, and progression to regular use.
It will also improve public health by increasing the likelihood that existing cigar smokers may quit.
The FDA will seek public comment on the proposal for 60 days, from May 4 until July 5, 2022.