The U.S. government is set to release its long-awaited plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The chief of the Food and Drug Administration said phasing out the mint-flavored cigarettes would save lives by helping adult smokers quit.
Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned under the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products. The Biden administration has been under pressure from African American groups and health advocates to eliminate the flavor.
Menthol accounts for more than a third of cigarettes sold in the U.S, and the mint flavor is overwhelmingly favored by Black smokers and young people.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
The FDA said menthol interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects. The combination of menthol’s flavor, sensory effects and interaction with nicotine in the brain increases the likelihood that youth who start using menthol cigarettes will progress to regular use, the FDA said.
The FDA estimates that eliminating menthol products would reduce smoking rates by 15% within 40 years.