Banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will provide exponential health benefits and help reduce health disparities
May 21, 2021 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians strongly supports the recent move by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, including menthol.
The ban mirrors recommendations laid out in the ACP 2010 policy paper on tobacco control and prevention. At the time, ACP urged the FDA to implement a ban on menthol flavoring in all tobacco products, as it had done with other flavors in cigarettes in 2009 via the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
“The ban on menthol is years in the making,” said Ryan Crowley, ACP senior associate of health policy. “Over a decade ago, Congress barred sale of flavored cigarettes but made an exception for menthol, [and] after years of study, evidence shows that menthol is especially popular with new smokers, who are mostly young people, and has a cooling effect that reduces the harshness of the tobacco, making it easier to start using and harder to quit.”
In March, ACP signed onto a joint letter with other major medical and public health organizations that again urged the FDA to prohibit menthol cigarettes and other non-tobacco-flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars.
The potential health benefits of banning these types of cigarettes and cigars are exponential. “Menthol cigarettes are detrimental not only to an individual's health but public health as well,” immediate past ACP President Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher said in a statement. “Menthol flavoring can be more attractive to new and younger smokers, and the evidence shows that menthol cigarette smokers find it harder to quit than those who smoke non-mentholated cigarettes.”
Moreover, this ban will help reduce health disparities, particularly for Black Americans, who disproportionately use menthol tobacco and are more likely to die of smoking-related conditions, Fincher said in the statement. It is estimated that nearly 18.6 million people currently smoke menthol cigarettes, according to the FDA. And of all Black smokers, 85 percent smoke menthol cigarettes compared with 30 percent of white smokers.
According to Crowley, this disproportionate use is likely the result of decades of intense targeted marketing by tobacco companies to Black Americans. He added that tobacco use is the primary cause of preventable death among Black Americans.
The FDA actions “are a step towards preventing people from starting to smoke and encouraging those who already do to stop,” Fincher said. She added: “The rules and laws that surround the purchase and use of tobacco must be changed in order to end this public health crisis, and ACP believes the FDA should act quickly to initiate rulemaking to eliminate these dangerous products and save lives.”
The FDA says it is working “expeditiously” on the efforts to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The agency's next step will be to publish proposed rules in the Federal Register to allow an opportunity for public comment. Crowley encourages ACP members to make remarks on the FDA proposal once it is open for public comment.
The ACP policy paper, “Tobacco Control and Prevention,” is available on the ACP website.