Tobacco

23 Attorneys General Call on FDA to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

Menthol ban would benefit public health, mitigate harm caused to minorities, letter says
Cigarette Pack
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO — A group of 23 attorneys general is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes.  

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are leading the group and submitted a letter to the FDA on Jan. 22 arguing a ban on menthol cigarettes would benefit public health overall, decrease youth smoking and help mitigate the harm menthol cigarettes cause to minority populations.

“I am asking the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes because even though cigarette use has decreased over the years, menthol-flavored cigarettes continue to attract and addict new smokers—particularly youth and minority smokers,” Raoul said in announcing the letter. “The FDA’s own data underscores the need to ban menthol cigarettes, which could save thousands of lives and support state efforts to combat youth smoking.”

Menthol in cigarettes disguises their harsh flavor, making it attractive for beginners who experiment with cigarettes and ultimately become addicted, the attorneys said. In the letter, they highlighted the FDA’s data saying that in 2019 it was estimated that 46.7% of middle and high school-aged smokers use menthol cigarettes.

Studies have also shown that menthol cigarettes are marketed disproportionally to younger people and African Americans, and menthol use is the highest among African American smokers, the attorneys general said.

A page on the FDA’s website addressing menthol and other flavors in tobacco products said the use of flavors in tobacco products raises important public health questions.

“FDA has already banned cigarettes with certain kid-appealing flavors and is examining options for regulating other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes,” the page read, in part. “FDA is dedicated to understanding how flavors influence tobacco use and addiction, with the goal of identifying regulatory actions that will best protect the public’s health based on their net impact.”

The FDA in February 2019 barred most flavors, excluding tobacco and menthol, from unauthorized cartridge-based e-cigarettes until companies go through the premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process.

Massachusetts banned the sale of menthol tobacco products and California also passed a flavor ban sales law, which is being challenged.  

Other state and territory attorneys general who signed the letter were William Tong of Connecticut, Kathleen Jennings of Delaware, Karl Racine of the District of Columbia, Clare Connors of Hawaii, Tom Miller of Iowa, Aaron Frey of Maine, Brian Frosh of Maryland, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Douglas Peterson of Nebraska, Aaron Ford of Nevada, Hector Balderas of New Mexico, Letitia James of New York, Josh Stein of North Carolina, Edward Manibusan of Northern Mariana Islands, Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, T.J. Donovan of Vermont, Robert Ferguson of Washington and Joshua Kaul of Wisconsin.  

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