Proposed FDA ban on menthol takes aim at tobacco industry’s predatory marketing
The tobacco industry’s relentless targeting of minority groups and the LGBTQ+ community with menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars could soon come to an end. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed two rules that would, upon final approval, completely prohibit the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars in the United States.
Potentially one of the great victories against Big Tobacco in recent years, these rules would prevent the sale of a significant percentage of all tobacco products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), menthol cigarettes accounted for 37% of all cigarette sales in the U.S. in 2019 and 2020; the highest percentage since Big Tobacco was first required to report sales figures to the federal government.
Removing these flavored products, designed to make it easier to start smoking and harder to stop, would mark a significant victory in reducing tobacco-related death and disease and promoting health equity.
For nearly 60 years, Big Tobacco has intentionally marketed its menthol cigarettes and cigars to the black community, resulting in the loss and shortening of countless lives. Referring to them as “poverty markets,” the industry has ruthlessly targeted black neighborhoods, magazines, and events aimed at the black community. Menthol products are undeniably a part of the tradition of racial inequity and preying on the black community.
Big Tobacco has also targeted its products at low-income, LGBTQ+ communities, youth and young adults, resulting in significantly higher rates of use, disease and death. The results have been tragic.
Black men now have the highest lung cancer rates in the U.S. and more than 85% of black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes. An FDA clinical trial of treatments used to help smokers quit found that black women who smoke menthol cigarettes had the lowest quit rate of all groups in the study.
Decreased success in quitting extends to all users of menthol cigarettes. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), menthol cigarette smokers have 24% lower odds of quitting than daily smokers. Furthermore, the CDC states that more than 40% of high school smokers reported using menthol cigarettes in 2021.
The FDA’s proposed ban carries significant ramifications for public health and directly addresses several of the tobacco industry’s most dangerous marketing tactics.
The only purpose of flavored products is to make them less harsh and accelerate use, and due to their effects on the brain, young people are more likely to develop strong addictions when they begin to use. Big Tobacco targets youth with flavored products to capture addicted customers for life and replace smokers who have died.
A menthol and flavored cigar ban would free many young Americans from lives of addiction and disease.
According to modeling studies from the American Cancer Society, a ban on menthol products would reduce smoking by an estimated 15% within 40 years. Additionally, the move could reduce smoking-related deaths by more than 600,000 over that time, including more than 230,000 black Americans.
The FDA has been accepting public comments regarding the proposed rules, a process that will end on August 2, 2022. At that point, they will review and respond to requests and submit the finalized rules to the White House. If approved, they will begin the process of shutting down the sale of menthol products.
The end is in sight when it comes to Big Tobacco’s aggressive targeting. This ban, if successful, yields momentum in the form of progress and is a massive win when it comes to building a tobacco-free future for generations to come. For more information and resources to keep your community and home tobacco free, visit TobaccoStopsWithMe.com.