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FDA Moves Towards Banning Menthol Cigarettes & Says Its Use Disproportionately Targets The Black Community

Cigarettes have earned a mixed reputation in the last decade or so! From commercials to billboards, anti-smoking advocates have tried their best to bring awareness to the harmful side effects of smoking tobacco. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tackling the concerns in a major way. The agency announced that they will begin the process of “banning menthol tobacco cigarettes” along with “all flavored cigars,” according to NBC News. A statement detailing this first step towards a ban was issued on Thursday via the FDA’s official website.

“With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, who is the acting FDA Commissioner.

NBC News reported that about 85 percent of Black-identifying smokers use menthol cigarettes. Black smokers are also “more likely than white Americans to be diagnosed with lung cancer at more advanced stages.” The lung cancer death rate is also highest among Black men.

“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use,” said Mitch Zeller, who is the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally,” Mitch continued.

Menthol was the only remaining flavor allowed in cigarettes. The FDA revealed that this ban is an “urgent action” committed to reducing “tobacco addiction” and to curbing “deaths.” Yet, the agency’s efforts will not apply to menthol-flavored electronic cigarettes.

Menthol flavoring is risky because it allegedly masks the flavors and harshness of the tobacco, which means it can lead to regular smoking. As you might know, smoking cigarettes is the “leading cause of preventable disease and death.”  The official statement cited a study that suggested banning menthol cigarettes can lead to 923,000 smokers quitting, including 230,000 African-Americans. This drastic drop in smokers will supposedly be seen within the first 13-17 months after the ban takes effect.

To be clear, this announcement does not guarantee a ban. Instead, it is one step forward in the lengthy process to get menthol products out of the retail industry. Menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are expected to be available for another two years at minimum.

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