WASHINGTON — The U.S. government on Thursday will lay out its long-awaited plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which have taken a disproportionate toll on Black smokers and other minorities.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf previewed the announcement in congressional testimony, saying the proposal would reduce disease and death by helping smokers quit and stopping younger people from starting.
Menthol accounts for more than a third of cigarettes sold in the U.S, and the mint flavor is overwhelmingly favored by Black smokers and young people.
The FDA has attempted several times to get rid of menthol but faced pushback from Big Tobacco, members of Congress and competing political interests under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The agency has been under legal pressure to issue a decision after anti-smoking and civil rights groups sued the FDA for “unreasonably” delaying action on earlier requests to ban menthol. Menthol’s cooling effect has been shown to mask the throat harshness of smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit smoking.
The FDA will also seek to ban menthol and dozens of over sweet and fruity flavors from small cigars, which are increasingly popular with young people, especially Black teens.
The agency’s proposals on both cigarettes and cigars will only be initial drafts. FDA will take comments before issuing final rules, which then could face years of legal challenges from tobacco companies.
Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not prohibited under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, an exemption negotiated by industry lobbyists. The act did, though, instruct the agency to continue to weigh a ban.