The US government will on Thursday (28/4) pass a long-awaited bill to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which have disproportionately harmed black smokers and other minorities.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf read the announcement at a hearing in the US Congress. He said the bill would reduce illness and death by helping current smokers quit and preventing young people from starting to smoke.
More than a third of cigarettes sold in the US are menthol cigarettes. Cigarettes with that taste are very popular with black smokers and young smokers.
The FDA has repeatedly tried to get rid of menthol cigarettes, but its efforts have faced opposition from Big Tobacco, members of Congress and competing political interests under both Democratic and Republican governments.
The agency is under legal pressure to issue a decision after anti-smoking and human rights groups sued the FDA for “unreasonably” delaying taking action on previous requests to ban menthol. The cooling effect of menthol has been shown to cover the throat from the harshness of cigarettes, making it easier for a person to start but harder to quit smoking.
The FDA will also seek to ban menthol and cigars with dozens of sweet and fruity flavors, which are increasingly popular with young people, especially young blacks.
The FDA’s proposal to ban cigarettes and cigars is only a preliminary draft. The agency will receive input before coming up with a final rule, which could then face years of legal challenges from tobacco companies.
Menthol was the only cigarette flavor not banned under a 2009 law that gave the FDA jurisdiction over tobacco products, an exception negotiated by industry lobbyists. However, the Act still orders the FDA to continue to consider the ban. [rd/ka]
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