The United States has seen a major decrease in cigarette smoking over the past decade, but the majority of those who stopped smoking reported quitting traditional tobacco cigarettes, not menthol-flavored cigarettes. Menthol is the flavor that managed to escape the FDA’s 2009 ban on flavored cigarettes, which covered things like cherry, chocolate, and other options that appealed to young smokers. Now experts are returning attention to the issue of menthol.
The exclusion of menthol cigarettes from the 2009 flavored cigarette ban was heavily criticized, with many experts pointing out that menthol flavor helps reduce the harshness of burnt tobacco, making it easier for new smokers to pick up the habit. Likewise, menthol cigarettes are heavily marketed in black communities, raising social justice concerns.
Researchers with Rutgers University have published three new studies highlighting the issues surrounding menthol cigarettes, including that the smoking of this flavor remains a big issue in the US. Experts are renewing calls for the FDA to ban these cigarettes, expressing concerns that they are particularly damaging to minority communities and that they are making it easier for new generations of kids to start smoking.
On its website, the FDA notes that the US has nearly 20 million menthol cigarette smokers and that of those, more than 85-percent are black, followed by 46-percent Hispanic and 39-percent Asian. Only around 29-percent of menthol cigarette smokers are white.
In a recently published interview, Rutgers University’s Center for Tobacco Studies director Cristine Delnevo said:
Our research has also found that local bans at the city level are likely insufficient to reduce menthol cigarette availability. That isn’t to say local bans are a bad idea. They aren’t. A local movement can grow to a statewide campaign, just like it did in California. But ideally, we should be addressing this at a national level. The Senate should step up and pass HR 2339, also known as the “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019”–which would ban menthol cigarettes nationwide and be an important step in protecting public health and achieve health equity in the U.S.