Dozens of health organizations pledge ‘full support’ for federal ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars

Eighty national public health groups, including the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Preventative Medicine, placed a full-page ad in Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post in support of a federal ban on menthol in cigarettes and all flavored cigars.

“The answer is clear,” the full-page ad says. “Saving lives starts by ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars.

“Smoking kills nearly half a million people in the United States each year, and these addictive, deadly products are a big part of the problem. The FDA and White House have our full support to release lifesaving rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars.”

After years of consideration, the US Food and Drug Administration announced In April 2022 a proposed product standard because it had “the potential to significantly reduce disease and death” and reduce “youth experimentation and addiction” as well as increase the number of smokers who quit. In October, the FDA took a key step toward banning flavored cigars and menthol in cigarettes, sending final rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

“Finalizing these two product standards remains a top priority for the FDA. The posting of both rules on the OMB website means they have reached the final step of review for regulatory documents,” Dr. Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in an email to CNN in October.

Public health groups are urging the Office of Management and Budget to act quickly and expedite the review so the final regulations could be issued by the end of the year.

An ad supporting a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. - Courtesy American Heart Association
An ad supporting a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. - Courtesy American Heart Association

“The FDA issued a bold proposal in 2022 to prohibit tobacco companies from selling menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars,” Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

“As the White House gives final review to the FDA rules, the American Heart Association and other leading national public health groups are sending a clear message to the administration to issue strong final rules by the end of the year and save lives.”

CNN reached out to the FDA for further details about when final regulations are expected.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets, the national retail trade association representing more than 66,000 stores that sell tobacco products, doesn’t believe a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will suddenly make lots of smokers quit. Instead, it says, it will prompt criminal activity.

“The supply of these products will shift from responsible, licensed and regulated retailers to drastically expand an already existing illicit marketplace,” the association said in an email sent to CNN previously.

Scientists have long understood that menthol flavor can make cigarettes more addictive than tobacco-flavored ones. Menthol flavoring is attractive, particularly to new smokers, because it masks the harsh taste of tobacco, and a 2015 study found that it makes people want to smoke more.

For years, tobacco companies have aggressively targeted minority communities with menthol marketing, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The focused outreach has been highly effective, particularly among the Black community, and menthol cigarettes have played a role in widened health disparities.

2020 study showed that while 43% of all adult smokers smoked menthols, more than 83% of Black smokers did. Only about 30% of White smokers chose menthols.

A ban on menthol cigarettes could eliminate some significant health disparities, according to a study from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Black people die at significantly higher rates than White people of smoking-related illnesses including stroke, heart disease and lung cancer: They make up 12% of the population in the US, but people who are Black account for 41% of smoking-related premature deaths and 50% of the life-years lost associated with menthol tobacco product use between 1980 and 2018, one study found.

Within five years, the elimination of menthol cigarettes could close the gap in lung cancer deaths, the study found.

Prohibiting menthol cigarettes would save up to 654,000 lives in the US within 40 years, including the lives of 255,000 members of the Black community, a 2022 study found.

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