The US government will outline its long-awaited plan on Thursday to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which have taken a disproportionate toll on black smokers and other minorities.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf introduced the announcement in congressional testimony, saying the proposal would reduce illness and death by helping current smokers quit and preventing young people from starting.
Menthol accounts for more than a third of cigarettes sold in the United States, and the mint flavor is popular with black smokers and young people.
The FDA has repeatedly attempted to get rid of menthol, but has been rebuffed by Big Tobacco, members of Congress, and competing political interests under Democratic and Republican administrations.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will begin the process of banning menthol cigarettes in an effort to improve the health of groups most likely to smoke menthol products.
The agency came under legal pressure to issue a ruling after anti-tobacco and civil rights groups sued the FDA for “unreasonably” delaying action on previous menthol ban requests. The cooling effect of menthol has been shown to mask throat stiffness caused by smoking, making it easier to start and harder to quit.
The FDA will also seek to ban menthol and dozens of overly sweet and fruity flavors from little cigars, which are increasingly popular with young people, especially black teenagers.
The agency’s proposals on cigarettes and cigars will only be drafts. The FDA will take comments before issuing final rules, which could then face years of legal challenges from tobacco companies.
Menthol is the only cigarette flavor that was not banned by the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, an exemption brokered by industry lobbyists. The act, however, asked the agency to continue to weigh a ban.