The White House Must Support Health Equity by Approving the FDA’s Proposed Rule on Menthol

Statement from Laurent Huber, Executive Director, Action on Smoking and Health

December 7, 2023

In 2009, Congress gave FDA the authority to regulate tobacco in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and banned fruit and candy flavors from cigarettes, but menthol was exempted. At the time, the removed flavors were popular with white youth while menthol was popular with African American youth.

Our esteemed colleague Carol McGruder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council has frequently said that the menthol exemption was a definitive moment in public health history that “pushed Black people to the back of the tobacco control bus.”

Since that time, ASH has been standing with our colleagues and pushing for this historical wrong to be righted and for all people to be equally protected from flavored tobacco products.

In the 2009 Act, Congress instructed FDA to examine menthol and, if it determined it would be in the interest of public health, to ban it. In 2011, the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that without the FDA removing menthol, by the end of 2020, the African American population would suffer over 4,700 additional deaths and over 460,000 more African Americans would start smoking. In 2013, a Citizens’ Petition was filed urging FDA to move forward on banning menthol. FDA didn’t reply until a lawsuit, brought by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, ASH, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association, forced the issue.

What’s especially damaging about this nearly 15-year delay in removing menthol is that menthol makes cigarettes more addictive, easier for kids to start smoking, and harder for users to quit.

It’s time for the White House to stand with science and the FDA in support of the crucial rule to remove mentholated cigarettes and flavored cigars. Every day we wait deepens the toll of preventable disease and death in the U.S.

While tobacco companies and their lobbyists attempt to reframe the narrative on menthol cigarettes, it’s essential to remember the truth: menthol cigarettes are not inherently a part of the Black culture and a menthol ban will impact sales and will not criminalize possession or use by users.

Removing menthol from cigarettes is essential to support health equity and save Black lives from the aggressive and deadly tobacco industry.

We urge the White House to act swiftly to finish the menthol rule before the end of 2023.

 

Media Contact:
Megan Manning
ManningM@ash.org
(202) 390 – 9513