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The Voice of the Black Community

Health

The push to ban menthol cigarettes
Petitions urging the FDA to ban use of minty flavoring has been filed
 
Published Thursday, April 25, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

The vast majority of African-American smokers (83 percent) report menthol cigarette use. But if a group of national public health advocates have their way they will no longer have the option.

A Citizen Petition urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the use of menthol as a characterizing flavoring in cigarettes was filed earlier this month by the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium.

The petition was signed by a long list of co-signing organizations focused on public health in general, and organizations focused on racial and ethnic health outcome disparities in particular.  

In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  Among other things, the law prohibited the use of fruity and candy-like “characterizing flavors” in cigarettes and cigarette smoke.  The flavor prohibition was especially intended to prevent young people from being lured to try — and to become addicted to — a lethal product. 

While menthol was the one flavor that was exempted from this 2009 prohibition, Congress did give the FDA the authority to prohibit menthol if “appropriate for public health.”  The law specifically made the issue of menthol in cigarettes a priority for FDA consideration.  The FDA has not yet prohibited menthol.

Following the filing of this Citizen Petition, the FDA is now required to begin a formal consideration process that could include the gathering of public testimony and will result in a formal FDA ruling on the matter.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and the petition stresses that smokers who are young and those who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by the availability of menthol cigarettes.  

“It’s shameful for our government to ban all cigarette flavorings except the one that is deadliest for communities of color and teens,” said Dr. Phil Gardiner of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.  “This is not only a public health issue, but also a social justice issue.”

A study published in the American Journal of Public health found that 68% of African Americans support prohibiting menthol flavoring in cigarettes.  A strong majority of white Americans (56 percent) also support a prohibition on menthol flavoring.

Menthol is a minty flavor that makes cigarettes attractive to many consumers.  The flavor itself is popular with many smokers, and it also produces a cooling sensation that many smokers enjoy, particularly those new to smoking.

Tobacco industry marketing of menthol cigarettes has particularly been aimed at African Americans.  Menthol cigarettes constitute about one-third of the American cigarette market.

 “Menthol in cigarettes causes more people to start smoking and makes it harder for them to quit – especially children and African Americans,” said Tobacco Control Legal Consortium Executive Director Doug Blanke. “There can be no justification for failing to take menthol cigarettes off the market.” 

 The Tobacco Control Legal Consortium is the legal network supporting the nation’s efforts to address the leading avoidable cause of disease — tobacco use. Based at the William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minn., the Consortium provides legal and policy assistance to community leaders working to enact, implement, and defend laws that reduce the toll of tobacco.

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