The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to ban the sale of mint-flavoured cigarettes and all flavoured cigars within the next year, thus handing a major blow to the tobacco industry in the country.
The FDA announcement on April 29 has come in the wake of vigorous lobbying for the ban by the public health and civil rights groups. These groups have cited harm of disproportionate health burden on black Americans caused by menthol cigarettes, according to a BBC report.
Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock referred to several studies on menthol's adverse effects and said the proposed ban could "help save lives" and "address health disparities experienced by communities of colour, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products".
Critics fear the ban may promote illegal sales
There are critics that fear the ban could give rise to illegal sales and more confrontations with law enforcement agencies, the report says, adding that the prohibition would affect more than a third of US cigarette sales.
When will the ban go into effect?
Implementing the ban on menthol cigarettes could take years as the FDA now enters a lengthy rule-making process that will include a public comment period.
The US Congress gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009 and banned all cigarette flavours except menthol. The agency presented a report in 2013 to show - for the first time - that menthol-flavoured cigarettes may pose significant public health risks, as they mask the harshness and throat irritation from nicotine, according to the BBC report.
But, neither the Obama nor the Trump administration acted against the product amid vocal opposition from the tobacco lobby, the report added.
Supporters of the ban
Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that African Americans typically smoke fewer cigarettes and start at an older age compared to white smokers, but they die from tobacco-related diseases at much higher rates.
Public health and civil rights groups say low-income urban youth, in particular, are smoking at higher rates because of the culturally tailored advertising, local event sponsorships and even free samples distribution by the menthol producers, the BBC report mentioned.
Proponents of the ban in a recent letter to the Biden administration had cited a report that showed about 85 percent of menthol smokes were purchased by African Americans, compared to fewer than 10 percent in the 1950s.
Opponents of the ban
Opponents of the ban, including black leaders like Al Sharpton, have said banning a most popular product among African Americans is a discriminatory practice.
“The impact that a menthol ban in NYC could result in by creating a black market in a community that has already been over-policed in the past”, Sharpton tweeted.
Sharing my concerns about the health hazard of ALL cigarettes, but also the impact that a menthol ban in NYC could result in by creating a black market in a community that has already been over-policed in the past. #NANSaturdayActionRally pic.twitter.com/TjKUDu1Oys— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) November 23, 2019