The Time is Now for the FDA to Ban Menthol in Commercial Cigarettes

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The Public Health Law Center emphatically supports the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) as they sue the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its failure to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes. Read their announcement here.

“This landmark litigation is the culmination of a decade of pioneering work by the health champions of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and other Black-led organizations, and it has the potential to reverse the leading cause of death in the Black community,” said Doug Blanke, Executive Director at the Public Health Law Center.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. Smoking-caused illnesses are the number one cause of death in the African American community, and 85 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes because they have been, and continue to be, intentionally targeted by the commercial tobacco industry. Menthol cigarettes kill thousands of people as the FDA delays regulatory action to remove menthol from combustible cigarettes.

This lawsuit is intended to compel the FDA to fulfill its duty to take menthol products off the shelves. In 2009, Congress passed—and President Obama signed into law—the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The Act banned all flavored cigarettes, except those flavored with menthol, and ordered the FDA to move quickly to review the scientific evidence on menthol and take the necessary action to protect health.

“Exempting menthol from the Act’s prohibition on flavored cigarettes was a concession to get the law passed after many years of effort, but the cost of that concession can be measured in African American lives,” said Joelle Lester, Director of Commercial Tobacco Control Programs at the Center.

Despite multiple scientific reviews and overwhelming evidence of menthol’s harm – including a 2011 conclusion by the FDA’s own Advisory Committee that the “Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States” – the FDA has failed to act for over a decade. The plaintiffs are asking the court to force the FDA to carry out its mandate. We are as well.


June 17, 2020