Statement of the Public Health Law Center, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, and The Center for Black Health and Equity (formerly NAATPN):

Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will begin legal steps to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Simply put, this action will save millions of lives. We commend FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb for taking this historic step. Because the stakes are so high and this action has been so long delayed, our organizations encourage the FDA to finalize and implement the ban as quickly as possible.

“It has been by corporate design and not coincidence that the alarming statistics have arisen from the predatory marketing of menthol products in predominantly poor Black communities, where there are more advertisements, more lucrative promotions, and cheaper prices for menthol cigarettes compared to other communities,” said Carol McGruder, Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Getting rid of all flavored tobacco products, especially menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, and flavored e-cigarettes, is a single step the FDA can take to protect our children, ALL of our children.”

When the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009 and banned flavors in cigarettes, menthol was exempted. The cost of this exemption has been high, particularly in the African American community, where 88.5% of those who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Other minority groups have also been profoundly affected. Researchers had projected that, if a menthol cigarette ban had gone into effect in 2011, more than 320,000 deaths would have been averted by 2050, almost a third of them among African-Americans. They also found that 38.9 percent of all menthol smokers and 44.5 percent of African-American menthol smokers reported that they would try to quit if menthol cigarettes were banned.

“While we’re saddened by the number of lives lost and new smokers addicted over the past decade, we’re pleased that the FDA is moving in this direction,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN).

The public health community has pressed the FDA for years to address the burden of death and disease caused by menthol cigarettes. In addition to the evidence collected by the FDA itself, the Public Health Law Center led the development of a formal 2013 Citizens Petition demanding action, with the support of 19 leading health groups and over a thousand pages of scientific evidence.

“This is a historic turning point, and the credit is due to a handful of visionary African American health advocates, particularly Dr, Phillip Gardiner, Carol McGruder, Dr. Valerie Yerger, and Delmonte Jefferson,” said Doug Blanke, Executive Director of the Public Health Law Center. “If the FDA moves decisively, it will be a giant step toward health and justice for the African American community and for all of America’s kids.”


November 15, 2018