FDA proposes ban on sales of menthol cigarettes

SAN DIEGO (KUSI)- The head of the Food and Drug Administration is recommending a ban on menthol cigarettes as part of a broader effort to reduce smoking among youth.

According to the federal agency, 54% or more than half of young smokers between 12 and 17 use menthol cigarettes. Among African-American youth, the numbers are even higher; seven out of ten smoke mentholated cigarettes.

Debra Kelley, the advocacy director for the American Lung Association in San Diego said menthol cigarettes, which ease the irritation to the throat make it easier for young people to become hooked on nicotine.

“It kind of numbs the throat and the lungs and so it’s easier to smoke a menthol cigarette and to pull the smoke deep into your lungs because it doesn’t bother you as much. So what we say is menthol makes the poisons go down,” Kelley said.

Kelly said there’s also evidence that menthol products are more harmful than non-flavored nicotine and are more addictive.

Anti-smoking advocates said removing menthol cigarettes from the market would benefit African-American communities in particular, which for decades have targets for the marketing of menthol cigarettes by the tobacco industry. In 2010, a national study showed that 80% of black smokers used menthol cigarettes.

To curb the epidemic of vaping among teens, the FDA on Thursday announced new steps to limit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, but mint and menthol flavors were excluded. Kelly criticized the exception, saying it made no sense, and said it would be best for the FDA to get rid of all flavored nicotine.

Altria Group, the company that sells menthol flavored Marlboros called the proposed ban, “an extreme measure not suported by science and evidence.” Roughly a third of all cigarettes sold in the United States are menthols.

Kelly said with opposition from the tobacco industry and regulatory hurdles, it could take years to remove menthol cigarettes from the shelves.

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