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FDA wants to ban menthol cigarettes. Why not all cigarettes?

Media Contact: Megan Arendt
(202) 659 – 4310

WASHINGTON, DC – November 15, 2018 – This week FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced his intention to begin the process for banning the sale of menthol cigarettes. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) applauds this move. Menthol was left out of a cigarette flavoring ban in 2009, and the result is that African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at a much higher rate – and suffer the consequences – than the general population. But it’s long past time to think about doing away with cigarettes altogether. As Stanford University’s Robert Proctor put it in his book Golden Holocaust, “the cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization.”

The addition of menthol makes that first cigarette easier on the throat, making inhaling easier, and increasing nicotine addiction. Menthol brands have been heavily marketed to African Americans, resulting in nearly 9 out of 10 African American smokers using menthol cigarettes. “The African American community has been perniciously targeted by the tobacco industry for decades,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.  “It’s an outrage.”

Cigarettes still cause nearly 500,000 deaths in the U.S. annually, over 1/5th of all deaths. More than half of all long-term smokers die much younger because of it. And it’s not just smokers that become victims. Tens of thousands of people die from exposure to secondhand smoke, read one of many stories here. And the cost to the economy – mostly born by taxpayers – is around $300 billion a year. The cigarette is unreasonably dangerous.

As a society, we have become numb to the harm caused by cigarettes, thanks largely to a century-long tobacco industry public relations campaign to normalize smoking. But take a step back, and imagine a new product coming on the market tomorrow that is highly addictive and deadly when used as intended. It would be removed from the shelves immediately.

Ask yourself another question: at what age do I want my kids to start smoking? The answer for nearly everyone is obviously “never.” Most smokers want to quit and wish they had never started. Nearly all made the “choice” to smoke that first cigarette as children; by adulthood, they were already addicted.

“The mass marketing of cigarettes, a highly sophisticated, addictive and defective nicotine delivery device that kills over 7 million people globally every year, is an abuse of corporate power and a human rights violation,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director of ASH. “Banning menthol is a step in the right direction, but it is time to go one step further and phase cigarettes out of the market to prevent millions of unnecessary deaths.”

Watch our video Phase Out Cigs here.

The FDA was precluded from banning tobacco sales when it was finally given authority over tobacco products. But all the states and many local jurisdictions are empowered to end the sale of cigarettes and protect the lives of their citizens. Such a move was politically impossible when we first learned of the health harms caused by smoking – about half of adults smoked. But we’ve made progress in the past 50 years, and driven that figure down to about 14%.

“It’s now within reach,” Huber said. “With the stroke of a pen, communities can end the number one preventable cause of death and disease.”


Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. ash.org