FDA announces plans to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

JOPLIN, Mo. – The FDA is pushing forward with a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, a move they say could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products. It was an exemption negotiated by industry lobbyists.

The move announced on April 29th comes in response to new legal  pressure from African American Health Groups concerned over the impact that menthol  cigarettes have in the black community. A tobacco control study shows that from 2012 to 2014, 84 percent of black smokers reported smoking menthols. Young smokers are also more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes according to Tobacco Control. From 2012 to 2014, 53 percent of smokers age 12 to 17 and 50 percent of smokers age 18 to 25 smoked menthols. Menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke, which health experts say might appeal to underage smokers and make it harder for smokers of any age to quite.

In total around 20 million Americans smoke menthol cigarettes, according to the FDA.

“With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” says Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. in the announcement.

“The tobacco industry is on a narrow quest for profit, and they have been killing us along the way. It’s about time we prioritize the health and wellbeing of African Americans,” says Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP on Twitter.

“I can remember as a little boy growing up my dad and uncles, whatever, that’s all they smoked,” says Victor Sly, President of the Joplin NAACP chapter. “It’s targeting the inner city communities, you know? Getting these young kids to start smoking earlier.”

Sly explains that in his time as a Joplin DARE Officer, he always saw the potential for menthol cigarettes to serve as a gateway drug to harder drugs for kids who started smoking. He says while smoking is a personal choice for adults, the ban could be a positive thing for everyone.

“Say you stop smoking, everybody stops smoking, then you wont have these different types of the disease, you know? You can cut back on medical costs, people won’t be in hospitals,” says Sly.

“No. No. We need our menthols. There are people who cannot do regular cigarettes,” explains Parsons resident Destini Haris.

But menthol cigarette smokers aren’t happy about the upcoming change. Parsons, Kansas native Destini Haris says she smokes menthols because that’s what her family used growing up, so that’s what she used when she started smoking.

“There’s no substitute. A lot of us probably will end up, probably will quit,” says Haris.

Joplin resident Abbi Constable’s been smoking for 20 years, and has used menthols exclusively that whole time. She’s tried quitting on more than one occasion, but it never stuck because it’s harder than it seems.

“I’d have to switch over to a regular one, and she’s probably gonna listen to me complain about it the whole time,” says Constable.

There are also some who think it’s unfair for the FDA to only ban menthol cigarettes while leaving regular cigarettes unchanged.

“If you’re gonna do the menthols you gotta do the other ones. It’s not only fair,” says Haris.

“They should ban all cigarettes is what they should do, truthfully,” says a Joplin smoker named David. “But, you know, like I said to each his own.”

The move has also received pushback from the American Civil Liberties Union, which says it could end up hurting black communities.

In a letter obtained by CBS News on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern that a ban on menthol cigarettes would have “serious racial justice implications.” That letter spoke about police encounters that started because of enforcement of tobacco laws, citing the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The FDA says they’re working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year.