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What Made the FDA Ban Menthol Cigarettes?

by Cedric Dent

July 20, 2022
A pile of cigarette butts in ashes illustrate someone's nicotine addiction; what made the FDA ban menthol cigarettes?

For big tobacco, 2022 has seen harsh regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the White House. The White House has advanced a so-called “Cancer Moonshot Initiative” comprised of several policies aimed at significantly mitigating cancer deaths nationwide. They include a new rule jointly produced by President Joe Biden and the FDA. The new regulation imposes a maximum amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes, vape pens and similar tobacco products. Companies found to be in violation could face legal action. A regulation to fight nicotine addiction isn’t what made the FDA ban menthol cigarettes, though.

It just happens to come as the FDA has proposed a ban on menthol-flavored tobacco and cigarettes. The bureau has since reported that the U.S. consists of about 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers from age 12 and up. It also reported that removing menthol-flavored products might drop the death toll over the next 40 years by about 654,000. 

Why Did the FDA Ban Menthol Cigarettes?

Adding flavoring to tobacco products, like menthol, strawberry and grape, can make them more appealing to use. Flavoring also makes tobacco products more palatable to children. So the proposed bans are really an effort to make smoking a less pleasurable experience. As it so happens, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s estimated that 34 million U.S. adults smoke, including around 2.5 million middle and high school students, using at least one tobacco product like e-cigarettes. The World Health Organization reports 8 million people die worldwide from tobacco industry products each year. 

A punk girl leans against a building and exercises her nicotine addiction by lighting a cigarette, which is what makes the FDA ban menthol cigarettes.The FDA, CDC and the executive branch have endeavored to curtail tobacco usage, but efforts in recent years account for $225 billion annually on medical care just to treat smoking-related conditions. These things show that the expense is both fiscally high and fatal. 

BMJ’s Tobacco Control, an international peer-reviewed journal covering the nature and consequences of tobacco use worldwide, published a report finding that a national menthol ban would save 16,250 lives annually by 2060. Findings came from the data analyses from the Center for the Assessment of Tobacco Regulations.

“From our findings, we estimate that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African-American smokers,” said Geoffrey Fong, principal investigator at the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.

The Addictiveness of Menthol

Moreover, after the FDA’s proposed menthol ban, a research team at the University of California-San Diego found that users of menthol-flavored products have a harder time quitting than others. Their study was conducted to figure out what effect menthol use and attempts to quit menthol use had on people of different demographics. 

The study even showed that menthol proved harder to quit for 40% of the study’s cohort, yet switching from menthol to other flavors first improved the success rate of attempted quits. In other words, menthol proves statistically more addictive than other flavors of big tobacco products. Despite all the concerns about skyrocketing fentanyl mortality, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. Robert M. Califf, FDA Commissioner, has publicly stated that the nicotine regulation is to lower nicotine levels to a minimally addictive level to help wean current generations off cigarettes. 

Menthol Ban Spreads

Some states have taken matters into their own hands and beat the federal government to the punch. 

A recent Massachusetts study showed cigarette sales dropped by about a third when a ban on specifically menthol-flavored cigarettes went into effect. The same report also showed 33 other states wherein no such ban had been placed only saw an average 8% downturn. The study comes from JAMA Internal Medicine, and one of its co-authors, Samuel Asare, told UPI that a menthol flavor ban is an impressively effective tactic for reducing overall cigarette sales.

Canada has already issued a federal menthol ban, and the data collected in the aftermath shows positive smoking cessation rates according to a separate study. A research team from the University of Waterloo concluded that a similar ban would have even better results in the U.S. due to menthol cigarettes being less popular in Canada than in the U.S. in the first place. 

The FDA has also banned Juul Labs from selling its e-cigarettes nationwide. This follows Baltimore County, Md. filing suit against Juul Labs in 2020 for allegedly taking deliberate steps to market to children and disseminate misinformation. Indiana has also levied a 15% vaping tax on e-cigarette cartridges and vape pods.

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