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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.

  • Living in Las Vegas NV there is a smoke shop owned by the Paiute Indian Reservation located downtown. Does the FDA have any control about the ban on Menthol Cigarettes from this store or the Biden Administration? So a solution would be to make the age higher than 21 to purchase cigarettes. It is our right to smoke or not. But having to smell reefer from the car at the red light is disgraceful since it smells up my car. At a time to raise the economy and all we have endured this year with no jobs why is this a big deal now. So take away coffee and coke a cola too. But I thought all dictators have passed away. Voting for Biden thought would be better than 45 in office for 4 more years. Just leave us alone on what we can smoke. It is doing no harm to me for the Menthol Brands I have been smoking for 40 years. It is my right to choose but banning something that is stupid and not looking to help homeless people or people who don’t have any food. This needs more attention than my Menthols. Please just leave it alone.t

    • Banning menthol cigarettes started with the vaping scare from people who were making illegal marijuana vape pens that caused lung damage. Trump’s ran with it and started banning the flavored nicotine vape cartridge despite the fact that it’s adults who use them, they’re 99% safer and that it was illegally produced thc vape pens! But who cares about facts. Then some of the states realized that the inner city black people were using the menthols, white people perfer non flavored cigarettes and they decided to ban them. It went over so well taking more rights from the poorest segment of our plutocracy that the FDA decided to continue the trend of the flavored nicotine ban in the mistaken notion that it would reduce smoking by young people. Something that vaping already accomplished because vape cartridge are sold nicotine free which most kids prefer! But who cares about the facts when politicians are on a roll!

  • This is one of the stupidest ideas I have herd!! It’s not about saving lives it’s about slowly shorting the leash they already wrapped around our so called “free” society. The main reason they want to take our right to bare arms. This will not stop us from smoking. I will just switch to regular cigarettes and breath mints. And as far as the cigar issue I’m positive that the majority of cigars that are sold aren’t even smoked with the tobacco that comes in them still inside. It gets split open and dumped in the trash can. At least every single cigar I bought or ever even seen lit up when I was younger did

  • Menthol causes cancer is their main reason. What about the rest of the cigarette? It’s like they don’t even put real effort into hiding their corruption anymore. They are trying to ban any flavored e-juice as well. Kind of crazy how all this corruption just keeps happening. People can only be pushed around so much before they start pushing back. Where is the flavored alcohol ban?

    • Where? You think that’s not an absurdly trivial question? How about … in Nurembourgh!

      In fact, it has forbidden not just any particular flavours, but it banned anything that isn’t barley, hops, water and maybe yeast, and extended to all of Bavaria. Then further.

      Restrictions on stimulants were rather lacking there though, complete with doctors dispensing meth like candy.

  • Banning menthol flavor options is not the right way to go. What should have happened is approval of Very Low Nicotine Cigarettes referred to in the last 3 sentences in the article – with the “deliberations” going on already for multiple years now. This is political – too much Tobacco lobbyists moneys.
    What also should happen is a differential in health care for those who smoke and those who do not. The smokers drive up health care costs for everyone big time. THAT is totally unfair. Smoke if you want, but not near non-smokers, and simply pay the increased health care cost yourselves.

  • This is bs. Not just menthol causes cancer all ciggarettes cause cancer. I should be able to smoke the ciggarettes i wish to smoke its my body not yours. You people are going to start a lot of issues banning menthols.

  • I think it’s terrific that many people who voted for Biden smoke menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and cigar wraps. I think it’s ludacris that the state believes they can intervene on behalf of free people to tell them they cannot do things that harm their health when said action does not impose risk onto others. We have laws becausing agreeing to rules that prevent people from imposing on the liberty of others causes us to be freer. A ban on menthol cigarettes imposing on people for an action that is not imposing. A person choosing to smoke menthol cigarettes does not harm anyone other than the user. This is a country that consists of a few different brands of stupid opposed to one another so what difference does it make anyway?

  • So now cigarettes are racist. Jesus christ the left are ridiculous. I’ve never once seen a commercial for menthol cigarettes or any sort of branding or anything else directly targeting black Americans to smoke menthol. It’s a preference. And the notion it would help quell smoking and help people quit is immediately debunked by the fact 80 percent of people just switched brands. Sounds like a failure to me.

  • I am 62 years old and have smoked Menthol cigarettes since my early 20’s. My health has not been affected by this. But it is ok for the legalization of marijuana and to be beside a car at a stop light getting the smell in my car. How many kids are subject to this? I do not like regular flavored cigarettes. This is going to be a great disappointment for me to start hoarding the menthols. Where are our rights as US citizens? Young adults are still going to have these cigarettes like having a gun. So to be dictated by officials is unacceptable like telling me that I have to drink Budweiser instead of Pabst Blue Ribbon. This day and age, why do we have to live under dictators? Please leave my menthol cigarettes alone.

  • It don’t matter if you ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars the younger kids are still going to get cigarettes so it doesn’t matter if you stop selling menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars that’s a stupid freaking thing to do cuz America makes more money on menthol cigarettes than any other cigarette manufactured as well as the flavored cigars I hope that I hope you guys can’t pass that

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