FDA proposes ban on menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

Health

Newports, Kools, Salems. People will recognize these brand names if they’ve ever set foot in a gas station selling cigarettes.

While they go by different names, the key flavor profile — menthol — could get them pulled from shelves if the Food and Drug Administration has its way.

On Thursday, the agency made the announcement motivated by a lawsuit that anti-smoking groups filed, which forced the FDA to finally make a decision on menthol. The lawsuit alleges the agency had unreasonably delayed making its decision on a petition on menthol from all the way back in 2013.

The FDA said it aims to propose regulations banning the flavor in the coming year and declined to speculate on when the rule would be finalized.

The action would also ban menthol and fruity flavors from low-cost, small cigars, which are increasingly popular with young people, especially Black teens.

Meanwhile in Kansas City, making a quick stop for smokes is an evening ritual for some people on Troost Avenue.

“Menthol, number one flavor. Number one choice,” one man said of his buying habits.

“I smoke Black & Milds, or I might smoke like a Newport,” another man named Malcolm told FOX4.

“I don’t even know how to even say, like, everybody smokes,” a man named Justin said.

“You know what I’m saying? [I started at] like 16 or 17 but you know, I’ve been quitting and on-and-off. But I think that it’s cool if they ban them because it will save a lot of lives because I know a lot of people get cancer off of smoking cigarettes,” Justin said.

That’s a shared feeling with other groups.

Erika Sward, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said banning menthol cigarettes will result in fewer kids starting smoking. Kids, as well as adults, often choose menthols because the minty flavor soothes the throat while smoke goes down.

“The tobacco industry has spent decades marketing menthol cigarettes at communities of color, at the LGBTQ community, and as a result there are tremendous health disparities associated with death and disease,” Sward said.

The mint-flavored cigarettes are overwhelmingly used by young people and minorities, particularly Black smokers, 85% of whom smoke menthols. That compares to about a third of white smokers.

“I mean, I’ve known a couple people who had lung cancer, you know what I mean?” Justin said back on Troost Avenue.

“You come to the store. You want to get a soda. You want to get a bag of chips. And then this is what you get advertised: a beer, cigarettes. Where in the heck do you see a bag of chips advertised?” Malcolm added.

But, at least during this conversation, there was a little hesitation in talking about the proposed flavored cigar ban.

“Now wait a minute, I can’t buy a cigarillo? Oh no, no, no. We can’t do that. No, no,” Malcolm said.

“I mean to be honest, I want to, you know what I’m saying. I do want to switch over to paper. But man, that’s going to be a hard task man,” Malcolm added.

“When we think about our kids, like, I don’t want my daughter smoking cigarettes. I really don’t,” Justin said.

If the ban is approved by the FDA, it appears likely the ban would take years to implement as legal challenges would likely come from the tobacco industry. About a third of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. are menthol and its elimination would be a huge blow to these companies.

The FDA stressed Thursday that its ban would only apply to manufacturers, distributors and retailers, not individuals.

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