By Sheila Kaplan
© The New York Times Co.
a long-sought public health goal of civil rights and anti-tobacco groups that has been beaten back by the tobacco industry for years, according to a federal health official.
For decades, menthol cigarettes have been marketed aggressively to Black people in the United States. About 85% of Black smokers use menthol brands, including Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research shows menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than plain tobacco products.
The FDA is being forced to act by a court deadline — a federal district judge in Northern California had ordered the agency to respond by April 29 to a citizens’ petition to ban menthol.
But the odds are unlikely that a ban would take effect anytime soon, because any proposal is likely to wind up in a protracted court battle. The proposal also includes a ban on all mass-produced flavored cigars, including cigarillos, which have become popular with teenagers.
The ban would not, however, apply to e-cigarettes, which are being considered as a means to help smokers of regular menthol cigarettes quit. Most e-cigarette brands, including Juul, are undergoing an FDA review that will determine whether they are sufficiently beneficial to public health to be allowed to stay on the market.
Details of the proposal were first reported by The Washington Post.
Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health and Equity, one of the organizations behind the petition, called the decision a victory for African-Americans and all people of color.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Jefferson. “We’ve been fighting this fight, since back in the 1980s. We told the industry then we didn’t want those cigarettes in our communities.”
Steven Callahan, a spokesperson for Altria, which owns Philip Morris USA, said the company remained opposed to a menthol ban.
“We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work,” Callahan said. “A far better approach is to support the establishment of a marketplace of FDA-authorized non-combustible alternatives that are attractive to adult smokers.”