Biden administration delaying ban on menthol cigarettes

The White House opted to wait to enact a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars amid pressure from tobacco companies.
Posted at 7:22 AM, Dec 07, 2023

The Food and Drug Administration said it is delaying finalizing its final proposal that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. 

The debate over the ban has gone on for nearly two years, but the FDA has said the flavors are added to tobacco products to improve taste by reducing the harshness, bitterness and astringency. But recently, tobacco companies and convenience store groups have met with administration officials arguing against the ban, saying they would lose billions of dollars in sales and jobs.

Tobacco companies have also aligned themselves with Black advocate advocacy groups, including the National Action Network, to raise concerns that a ban would lead to police targeting black smokers.

The FDA estimates that 18.6 million people smoke menthol cigarettes. The agency notes that Black smokers are much more likely than White smokers to use menthol cigarettes. The FDA estimates that nearly 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 30.3% of White smokers. 

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The American Lung Association has urged the Biden administration to adopt such a ban. 

“The science and data are clear. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will save lives. It will also help reduce the unjust disparities in tobacco use caused by the tobacco companies targeting certain communities with menthol cigarettes," wrote American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer. "Research shows that ending the sale of menthol cigarettes would result in a significant number of people quitting smoking."

The FDA now says new rules could come in March 2024. 

Researchers from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation noted that in the five-year period after Canada banned menthol cigarettes, menthol smokers were more likely than non-menthol smokers to have quit smoking among daily smokers. They estimated in 2022 that 789,724 daily smokers would quit if the U.S. implemented a menthol cigarette ban.

In 2009, the FDA banned many other flavors of cigarettes, such as cherry and chocolate, that could be considered attractive to children. The FDA noted that these flavors, however, are not banned from other tobacco products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 480,000 deaths are tied to cigarettes in the U.S. annually, including 41,000 tied to secondhand smoke. The CDC says the life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers.