The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week they are beginning the process of putting a ban on menthol cigarettes. The goal is to improve the health of all Americans who choose to smoke menthol-based products, particularly youth and black Americans. (1)
FDA To Ban Menthol Cigarettes
The FDA announced a plan to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavored varieties. The goal of the ban is to curb smoking rates in young people and marginalized groups, who are the largest consumers of these products. The ban does not include menthol-flavored e-cigarettes. They hope that this ban will dramatically decrease the number of people who start smoking in the first place, considering most adult smokers begin in their teens. (1)
“With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. (1)
While it may appear as though the ban comes entirely because the FDA wants to protect the health of the country’s most vulnerable citizens, this is not actually entirely the case. In 2013, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Action on Smoking and Health sent the FDA a citizen-signed petition asking for a ban on menthol cigarettes. The FDA did not respond, and so the group sued them. This lawsuit gave them the push to move forward with the ban. (1)
Why Is Menthol In Cigarettes At All?
Menthol is a natural compound found in peppermint and other herbs, as well as can be made in a lab. It is the ingredient commonly used in chewing gums, mouthwashes, and toothpaste to help freshen the breath. (2)
Menthol is added to nearly all cigarettes to give it a smoother feeling, however, menthol cigarettes have much higher amounts of the compound in them. It provides a cooling sensation to the throat so that you are less irritated by the nicotine. This makes it much easier to inhale the smoke – and smoke more. (3)
Beyond just that, nicotine and menthol actually react together to numb the throat. They achieve this by desensitizing receptors in the trachea and lungs (your breathing airways) that are responsible for sensing nicotine irritation. (3)
“In addition to desensitizing the receptors in the lung and airways, menthol appears to slow or prevent the recovery of sensitivity after the first insult,” the researchers explained. “The issue may be that menthol in the presence of nicotine may reduce the irritation enough that a smoker can inhale more deeply, bringing not just nicotine but toxic smoke products farther into the lungs,” (4)
The concern, of course, is that this is even more detrimental to people’s health. (3)
Who Uses Menthol Cigarettes
Research shows that 85% of black smokers use menthol cigarettes, and black men have the highest rates of death from lung cancer in the country. Nearly half of all kids begin smoking using menthol cigarettes. Black smokers, in general, are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, when treatment options are few than white smokers. Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association, says that this is not a coincidence. (1)
“For generations, the tobacco industry has intentionally targeted Black and other communities with marketing of menthol cigarettes, resulting in tobacco-related death and disease as well as health disparities,” he said. (1)
Don’t Expect Menthol Cigarettes To Vanish From Store Shelves
The process to ban menthol cigarettes will begin this week, however, it will take some time. This week is just the start of the rule-making process, which from start to finish could take a few years. Despite this, many people are feeling positive about the decision. (5)
“Covid-19 and the racial awakening we had last summer exposed the inequities in our system,” said executive director of the Center for Black Health & Equity Delmonte Jefferson. “[Menthol] is just another example of the health inequities that have plagued African Americans for generations.” (5)
- “A ‘historic, lifesaving step’: FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.” NBC News. Erika Edwards. April 29, 2021.
- “Menthol and Cigarettes.” CDC
- “Menthol Enhances the Desensitization of Human α3β4 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors.” Aspet Journals. Hoai T Ton, et al. May 11, 2015.
- “Menthol in Cigarettes Numbs the Lungs, Study Says.” Healthline. Brian Krans. May 18, 2015.
- “FDA poised to ban menthol cigarettes this week, experts predict.” NBC News. Erika Edwards. April 26, 2021.
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