The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it would propose a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes in the US, which would mean a big blow to future tobacco sales.
Menthol is the last permitted flavor for cigarettes. According to the FDA, menthol cigarettes were disproportionately used by teenagers, black people and low-income groups. The vast majority of black smokers prefer menthol brands of cigarettes, and black men currently have the highest rates of lung cancer in the country.
“With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce initiation of adolescents, increase the likelihood of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health inequalities that occur among color communities, low-income populations, and LGBTQ + people, all of which are far more likely are to use these tobacco products, “said Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, in a press release.
However, Jefferies analyst Owen Bennett said that proposal would take years to reach a conclusion, as it would need sufficient evidence from both sides, which could be difficult.
“If we see a proposed rule for menthol, it could take years to reach the final rule as a waterproof evidence package would have to be put together … the FDA itself has said in the past that there hasn’t been enough evidence,” he said in a report, adding that large tobacco companies might strike back in response, which would mean more time.
This decision follows Years Considerations from public health officials to help smokers make the transition to less harmful practices such as non-flammable products or to give up smoking altogether.
Menthol cigarettes make up about a third of all cigarettes sold in the United States. The leading brands are Newport, which they own British American Tobacco’s R.J. Reynolds and Kool, who are owned by Imperial Tobacco’s ITG brands.
Imperial Brands said the FDA’s decision was “disappointing” but expected.
“We believe the rulemaking process will show that there is no clear scientific evidence to support menthol and flavor bans at the federal level. We hope the FDA will comply with the law and prioritize sound politics and science over political pressure,” said the enterprise.
Altria, the maker of Malboro cigarettes, has warned of the possibility of a ban that could create an illegal market.
“We share a common goal of switching adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but the ban is not working,” he said Altria in a statement. “The criminalization of menthol will have serious unintended consequences.”
Reynolds and his parent company British American Tobacco were not immediately available for comment.
If implemented, the proposal would be of great benefit to anti-tobacco advocates who have long seen flavored cigarettes as a way for consumers to become acquainted with smoking.
Tobacco product smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, according to the FDA. It is planned to introduce product standards within the next year to eliminate menthol in cigarettes and to eliminate all signature flavors, including menthol, in cigars.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fourteen percent of all American adults smoked cigarettes in 2019. Although smoking rates are similar between black and white populations, black smokers are less likely to quit, which some have attributed to the menthol taste. The mint taste of menthol cools the throat and makes it easier for smokers to tolerate the tobacco taste.
Altria shares fell less than 1% in morning trading, while shares of British American Tobacco, Reynolds’ parent company, fell about 2%.