Today, the Biden Administration and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plan to propose banning menthol in cigarettes. According to news sources, the proposal is also expected to include a ban on menthol and other flavors in mass-produced cigars, including small cigars, or cigarillos, which are popular among young people.
Prohibiting menthol cigarettes can protect kids from tobacco addiction, save lives and reduce health disparities, especially among Black Americans who have long been targeted aggressively by the tobacco industry and paid an enormous price in health and lives.
“The AARC strongly supports the proposal to seek a ban on menthol in cigarettes. It is a significant advancement in the interest of public health and long overdue,” said AARC’s President and CEO, Sheri Tooley, BSRT, RRT-NPS, CPFT, AE-C, FAARC. As a member of the Tobacco Control Partners Coalition, led by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network, and the American Heart Association, the AARC is an advocate for both tobacco cessation and tobacco prevention programs. “As a responsibility to the public, we have taken a strong position against cigarette smoking and the use of tobacco in any form, including products that contain flavors, and will continue to do so” added President Tooley.
Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Respiratory therapists, who are experts in pulmonary medicine and who promote healthy lungs, witness the devastating effects of tobacco use in individuals with chronic respiratory problems daily, especially those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). They are also aware of how flavored tobacco products, including those that contain menthol, have reached epidemic proportions resulting in huge increases in e-cigarette and vaping among youth and young adults over the past few years. Menthol is also found in cigars, hookah (waterpipe) tobacco and smokeless tobacco and because of its cooling effect, reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking when used in cigarettes making it harder to quit than nonmenthol cigarettes.
Scientific Evidence is Key to Decision
The scientific evidence is clear: Menthol makes cigarettes more addictive, easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit, thereby increasing the overall number of people who smoke and become sick and die as a result.
Both the FDA and its independent Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee have issued comprehensive scientific reports concluding that eliminating menthol cigarettes would benefit public health in the United States. The FDA’s own scientific analysis concluded that menthol cigarettes increase smoking initiation and progression to regular smoking among youth and young adults, increase nicotine dependence (addiction), and reduce success in quitting, especially among Black menthol smokers. The research shows that in the United States:
- More than 19.5 million people are current smokers of menthol cigarettes.
- 85.8 percent of African American smokers, 46 percent of Hispanic smokers, 39 percent of Asian smokers, and 28.7 percent of White smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.
- Youth who smoke are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than older smokers. More than half of smokers ages 12-17 smoke menthols.
A February 2021 study published in the journal Tobacco Control underscored the enormous harm menthol cigarettes have caused to public health in the United States. The study estimated that from 1980 to 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 10.1 million extra smokers, 378,000 premature deaths and 3 million life years lost during this time period. This amounts to nearly 10,000 premature deaths and over 265,000 new smokers each year over the 38-year period.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the elimination of menthol cigarettes even more urgent based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that smoking increases the risk of severe illness from the virus, which has disproportionately harmed Black Americans and other communities of color.
Ban Supported by Public Health Advocates
Today’s decision is the result of an April 2013 citizen petition filed by 19 public health organizations calling on the FDA to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes. In 2020, several public health and medical organizations filed a federal lawsuit asserting that the FDA’s failure to respond to the 2013 citizen petition constituted “unreasonable delay” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The FDA in January committed to the court that it would issue a “final citizen petition response” by April 29, 2021. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), Action on Smoking and Health, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association.
The AARC as an advocate for tobacco cessation and improving the lives of those with respiratory disease strongly support a proposal to ban menthol in cigarettes and urge the FDA to move expeditiously to propose, finalize and implement regulations to carry through this important milestone.
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