Menthol cigarettes and other menthol tobacco products may soon be things of the past, according to an announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday saying authorities are moving forward on a plan to ban them.
It could still be years before the products are removed from stores.
“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.
Advocates for banning menthol tobacco products have long said they disproportionately impact African Americans, among whom they’re popular. It is estimated that 85% of African American smokers use menthol products.
“Black folks die disproportionately of heart disease, lung cancer and stroke,” said Phillip Gardiner of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are the main vectors of those diseases in the Black and brown communities and have been for a long time.”
Experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say menthol cigarettes are more dangerous than regular cigarettes because their minty flavoring masks the harshness of tobacco smoke, allowing for deeper inhalation and possibly more intense smoking habits. They also say more than half of smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 use menthol tobacco products.
Some states such as California and Massachusetts have already banned menthol tobacco products.
Members of the public will be allowed to give their input on the proposed ban until July 5, after which the FDA will finalize a plan.
Tobacco companies are likely to launch legal efforts to prevent banning menthol tobacco products.
Cigarette stocks were mixed on the news despite menthol tobacco products reportedly accounting for one-third of the market in the United States.
It is estimated that 12% of Americans smoke cigarettes.
Some information in this report comes from Reuters and The Associated Press.