The federal agency said in a statement Thursday that the proposed new product standards are “based on clear science” and that they will “save lives,” adding that the new rules would not be enforced on individual menthol smokers, but only on manufacturers and distributors.
The new rules would not apply to flavored tobacco.
Studies have estimated a 15 percent reduction in smoking and a 324,000 to 654,000 reduction in smoking-related deaths if menthol cigarettes were no longer available in the United States, the statement says.
The FDA says in its statement the minty taste and aroma of menthol cigarettes makes them more appealing to youth and more addictive.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in the statement.
However, one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study shows 60 percent of teen smokers use nonmenthol cigarettes and that teen smoking has dropped to an all-time low of 1.5 percent.
FDA researchers also reported in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research that “menthol cigarettes are no more, and perhaps less, harmful than nonmenthol cigarettes.”
A public comment period on the matter is set to begin on May 4 and run through July 5, with the FDA holding public listening sessions on June 13 and 15.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a statement applauding the move from the Biden administration saying that, “for decades, the tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans and have contributed to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer across our community.”
The FDA estimates the menthols ban would prevent 92,000 to 238,000 smoking-related deaths among African Americans over the course of 40 years. And Becerra characterizes the proposed rules as an “important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
“You know, this is a public health decision made by the FDA, and the objective of it was not to address politics or handle politics in one way or another, but to save lives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.
President Joe Biden in February announced his commitment to reduce the nation’s cancer death rate by half in the next 25 years as part of an effort to “reignite” former President Barack Obama’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative. According to the FDA, tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer, and approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States are caused by smoking.