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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will ban all menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The agency has maintained for nearly a decade that menthol cigarettes, which produce a milder smoke than traditional cigarettes, have played an outsized role in hooking young people on smoking. The FDA first explicitly promised a menthol ban in 2018, but backed off amid intense pushback from the tobacco industry and its allies.

“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

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It’s not clear when the ban will go into effect. An FDA press release announcing the decision did not include an effective date for the ban. Instead, it promised that it will work toward developing a regulation banning these products “within the next year.”

FDA officials declined STAT’s request to provide an estimate for when the ban will be finalized. 

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“It’s really impossible to predict,” said the director of the FDA’s tobacco center, Mitch Zeller, who noted that a previous regulation on menthol received more than 175,000 comments, all of which the FDA was required to consider. “There are very important considerations, starting with legal considerations, about getting this right.”

The ban comes on the heels of a similar decision by the European Union and Canada. A number of states, including Massachusetts and California, have also attempted to enact their own menthol bans.

Public health advocates, who have insisted that banning menthol will help ameliorate health disparities between white and Black Americans and blunt youth tobacco use, celebrated the FDA’s move. They argue that Black Americans smoke menthols at a higher rate than other racial groups because the tobacco industry has targeted its menthol marketing toward Black communities.

Zeller, the tobacco center director, cited a study claiming a U.S. menthol ban would prompt 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans, in the first 13 to 17 month after a ban was enacted. 

“The FDA has taken a historic, life-saving step. Menthol has long been the tobacco industry’s most sacrosanct flavor, responsible for addicting millions of people to their deadly products,” former CDC Director Richard Besser said in a statement. “Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs.”

Tobacco companies are expected to challenge the decision in court. They argue that the FDA does not have the legal justification for regulating menthol cigarettes any differently than other forms of smoked tobacco. Should the FDA’s decision stand, it would decimate roughly one-third of the U.S. cigarette market, costing the industry billions.

Opponents of the ban say it will fuel a black market for the products, or simply force those smokers onto other types of cigarettes.

“Evidence from other countries suggests that a menthol ban is not a magic wand that will spur a majority of users to quit nicotine entirely. There will be no massive public health benefit if the response from most menthol and little cigar smokers is to switch to Marlboros or use illicit products bought off the street,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said in a statement that argued the FDA must now allow flavored vaping products to stay on the market as alternatives for former menthol smokers.

Public health groups argue the ban will push smokers to finally quit. Recent research published in the BMJ found that 21.5% of menthol smokers surveyed two years after the Canadian ban had quit smoking, though 59.1% switched to non-menthol cigarettes and another 19.5% smoked menthols sold by First Nation tribes.

Certain civil rights groups have also worried that a ban on menthol cigarettes would lead to increased policing of Black neighborhoods. In the agency’s statement, the FDA promised that the ban will only target “manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers” of menthol products. 

The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product,” the agency wrote. 

The FDA’s decision comes as a result of a lawsuit brought by public health groups filed against the agency in 2020 after it failed to respond to their so-called citizen petition from 2013, calling on FDA to ban these products.

The agency did not, however, move forward with a plan to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. Woodcock told reporters Thursday that that idea “is still under consideration.”

“It’s on the table, but we have not finished deliberations on that matter,” Woodcock added.

  • How about going after all the diabetes/obesity inducing candy and cereal that is aimed at kids… if the problem is that these products are aimed at and meant to appeal to kids and cause them long lasting harm.

  • I have no knowledge of the laws on this subject.

    However, this seems analogous to laws banning alcohol that tastes good, because people like to drink them more.

    Originally, we were told this ban was pushed because black people were more into menthol cigarettes, and it was racist marketing which needed to be stopped. But now, perhaps because people pointed out it was patronizing and insulting for Biden to ban things precisely because black people like them, we are being told this is to protect minors. Interesting pivot.
    On the racial justice angle – YES, FDA does not enforce the laws against individuals – or, it is PROMISING not to – and, as long as we live in a world where bureaucracies do not stray from their original purpose or goals – the personnel never change- or if they do, are replaced by people with exactly the same views – and so on – then that is likely true.
    But, seems to me, in this world, a guy who was suspected of selling cigarettes illegally got killed by the cops in New York City – I do not say the cops were to blame, I never followed the case, but it seems very likely he would not have died except for cigarette law enforcement.
    Will we see a black market in menthol? If so, I predict some non-white people are going to be involved and there will be police action against them – and I believe FDA knows that.
    My main objection is, this should not be a decision made by FDA at all – allowing them broad leeway to regulate “drugs” which have been socially accepted and not recognized as a law enforcement issue for centuries is bad enough, but in this case – where one slightly different form of such a drug will be completely forbidden – while another goes on untouched – gives far too much power to a bureaucracy – and it is anti-democratic.
    Clearly, Biden, as one of his duties as The Great White Savior, planned to ban these products to protect his easily manipulated children, before the election, and, in a well functioning democracy, that should have been reported as part of his platform by the media, before menthol tobacco product users voted. That is the democracy – you tell people what you intend to do, if they like it, they vote for you.

    But, failing that, and Biden is not the first person to hide and lie about his intentions -then before a big change, the people should be able to force a vote.

    I do not care much about menthol flavored cigarettes, likely most people do not – but all these same principles apply to Biden’s program to get several million people into the US illegally, as fast as possible. That upsets me.

  • Alcohol kills.as.many.if.not.more.than tobacco.does and a large.numner of the people.killled.by alcohol are not drinkers but victims.of drink drivers or other mayhem. Shouldn’t we ban all.flacored.alcogol.too? No more.mixed drinks, wine, flavored beers etc? Everyone who want alcohol.mist drink unpalatable straight pure alcohol. This.should work as well as prohibition did! Looks like a new profitable.criminal.enterprose is about to start up

  • This is absurd due to the fact of the matter is we are, are our own people and what we choose to do with our body is our business and not the governments or should be mandated by the government. The government is trying to take control of everybody’s life, liberty, and happiness. And on the other hand do you want to take away cigarettes move your age up to 21 but yet send 18 old kid out to kill somebody in your military.

  • This is completly stupid its our choice to smoke.. If you plan to ban menthol then ban tobacco products period.. This is no worse then pop snacks fast food and so on why dont you people find cures this pandemic and other things like cancer instead of worring about smokers oh also what about all the addictions that start with pain pills hmmmm i think thats a bigger problem then smoking menthol cigarettes

  • Wondering how many menthol cigarette smokers got in a car after smoking a pack and killed someone. Alcohol comes in many flavors. If you ban my menthol. .. you better be banning that as well. Smoking is my choice.. just as drinking alcohol, smoking crack, snorting coke, popping vicodin, xanax etc is yours. Id like to see ALCOHOL KILLS on every bottle.

  • This is messed up! It’s discriminating against menthol smokers. It’s our choice to smoke menthol now you’re taking that away too?Also I also just read statement that said getting rid of menthol cigarettes will help black people live longer because menthol is a choice of cigarette for black people. seriously!? Now people will be killing each other over finding where to illegally obtain menthol cigarettes ?

    • Hey, how about you just like, smoke the other cigarettes. The point of this is to reduce the amount of people who smoke. It’s your body your choice, so why not just y’know, smoke the other thing. Or you could quit 🙂

  • To all u people who think omg im so happy i cant stand cigarette smoke. Well this is only for menthol cigarettes and flavored blunt wraps. This will not stop people from smoking. But if these days with all the smoking bans. If your still putting yourseld around cigarette smoke, its all your fault. Quit the complaining and being happy about the government infringing on our rights. Because next it could be a right that you hold dear. WE THE PEOPLE!

    • BE HAPPY about the GOVERNMENT Infringing on OUR RIGHTS!!! I don’t Smoke but I Can SURE SEE this Is A DICTATORSHIP Controlling Government You must be a Democrat.. V. Castro & Hitler Disposed of people who DIDN’T Agree with them. They we’re a DANGER to their Power. As Adults we shouldn’t have our RIGHTS VIOLATED

    • Well Jerry L,
      Many smokers still stand right at the doorway of my favorite bars and restaurants, where I have to walk through a gauntlet of their nasty cigarette smoke. Then they litter the streets with polyester fiber cigarette butts that never degrade or go away, and wash down to the ocean. You all are still polluters.

  • The government needs to stay out of my life. I am an adult and will make my own decisions. We live in a free world or at least I thought we did. I will smoke what I choose. Pit will be legal but menthol cigarettes will not be !!! Give me a break!!! One way or another I’ll find menthol cigarettes to smoke. Stay out of my life!!! I pay taxes leave me alone!!

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