The US has announced that it will take steps to ban menthol flavoured cigarettes and all flavoured cigars within the next year.
The Food and Drug Administration will work to change the rules surrounding the products, which will apply to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and importers.
The Biden administration’s aim is to prevent the products ever making it to market and it is not a ban on consumers possessing or using them.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the FDA said on Thursday that the ban is designed to “significantly reduce disease and death” from the products.
The government acted as it faced a court deadline to respond to a 2013 citizen petition urging it to ban menthol, in the same way it has other flavoured cigarettes.
The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and Action on Smoking and Health sued the FDA when it did not initially respond to the petition in time.
The FDA had been set to ban menthol flavouring in 2018 but failed to carry it out under then-commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb.
Joe Biden’s Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, said it was now an important step to take.
“The science tells us that menthol is a fact in increasing in youth and young adults experimenting with cigarettes,” he said on MSNBC.
“Menthol can be more addictive for some people and make it harder to quit, and the disproportionate burden of the harm falls on communities of colour, on the LGBTQ community and on the poor.”
And he added: “We have too many people in our country who are developing illnesses and passing away because of tobacco related disease.”
More than one third of all cigarettes sold in 2018, the last year for which statistics were available, were menthol flavoured, according to the CDC.
And the product was disproportionately targeted at the Black community, where 85 per cent of smokers smoke menthol brands, compared to 27 per cent among white smokers.
Experts say that menthol flavouring increases the appeal of tobacco products, and can lead people, particularly younger people, to become regular smokers.
The menthol flavouring can mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make it easier for beginners to use the products.
Menthol is also believed to be more addictive for some people and makes it harder for the user to quit.
A Canadian study estimated that if menthol was banned, within a little over a year, it would lead 923,000 US smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans.
The move was welcomed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who introduced a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in the city in 2002, and an outdoor smoking ban in most outdoor areas.
“The FDA’s announcement that it will ban the sale of menthol cigarettes is a significant victory in our fight against the deadly, predatory tactics of the tobacco industry,” he said in a statement.
“The industry has targeted young people, especially in Black communities, with advertising campaigns that promote menthol products as healthy, safe, and cool.
“These tactics are a major reason why Black people suffer from such high rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other tobacco-related conditions.
“The FDA’s decision shows that the federal government is now leading on this important issue, which means a uniform and coordinated approach to reducing smoking and saving lives – and that will help us build on the work we’ve been doing and make even more progress.”
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