The Public Health Law Center congratulates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its proposal to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars. Today’s action officially begins the process of solving the problem that was ignored in 2009 when the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law.
Banning menthol in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will save lives, particularly among those historically and disproportionately targeted by the commercial tobacco industry. Eliminating menthol and other flavors will reduce youth initiation, increase the chances that current smokers will quit, and reduce the health disparities experienced by communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and low-income populations, all of whom are far more likely to use commercial tobacco products.
This historic action would not have occurred without the decades-long advocacy of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Center for Black Health and Equity. Their leadership and conviction never wavered as they pressed policymakers at every level of government across the country to stop Big Tobacco’s predatory targeting of the Black community with menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“The FDA’s proposed rules will do more to reduce tobacco-caused health disparities than any action the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products has taken to date,” said Joelle Lester, Director of Commercial Tobacco Control Programs at the Public Health Law Center. “It is essential that the FDA move quickly to finalize and enforce the rule, to stem the tide of preventable disease, death, and disparities caused by menthol and other flavored tobacco products.”
The FDA’s ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars addresses manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers only. Despite tobacco industry talking points to the contrary, the proposed rule does not create any penalties or enforcement mechanisms against individual consumers for possession or use of menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars. The FDA must ensure that law enforcement agencies around the country are not targeting individuals with a policy meant to limit a predatory industry to improve the public health. These actions are crucial for the advancement of health equity.
While the proposed rule makes its way through the lengthy notice-and-comment process, it is critical that state, local, and Tribal governments continue to exercise their authority to create commercial tobacco control policy beyond that of the federal government. Local jurisdictions can and should act to protect their communities in ways they see fit, on their own timelines.
“This is the beginning of a process that will likely take several years, and Big Tobacco will attempt to delay that even longer,” said Desmond Jenson, Lead Senior Staff Attorney for Federal Regulation, Commercial Tobacco Control Programs, at the Center. “The public health community needs to keep pushing the FDA, and there is no reason for any state or local government to wait for the agency to implement its rules. If you want to protect your citizens, act now.”
For more information, visit the Center’s Federal Tobacco Action Center.
About the Public Health Law Center
The Public Health Law Center collaborates with others to reduce and eliminate commercial tobacco, and to promote and support healthy food, physical activity, and a clean environment. We partner with Tribal health leaders, federal agencies, national health advocacy organizations, state and local governments, planners, researchers, attorneys, community coalitions, and individuals working on public health issues to create healthier communities around the country. To learn more, visit www.publichealthlawcenter.org.
Jay Kelly, Communications Director