Menthol cigarettes have had a significant impact on my life, my family’s life and the health of my community. As a Black girl growing up in Washington, D.C., everyone around me smoked menthol cigarettes including my mother, who later died of cancer. I smoked menthols as well and, thankfully, was able to quit 25 years ago. But the impacts of menthol use still weigh heavily on my family and my community, which is why I am passionate about ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. 

In April 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced two proposed rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. After a lengthy comment period and review process, these rules are at the White House as the final step.

Cheryl Calhoun, Chair of the American Lung Association National Board of Directors Cheryl Calhoun, Chair of the American Lung Association National Board of Directors

Once the final rules are released, barring any delay from the anticipated lawsuits from the tobacco industry, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will have to be completely removed from sale in the U.S. market within one year. 

When finalized, these rules will be a huge health victory and save an untold number of lives.

The Current Impact of Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

Menthol cigarettes make it easier to start smoking and harder to quit. That is why flavors, including menthol, are one of the primary reasons kids start using tobacco products. Currently, nearly 19 million people smoke menthol cigarettes. The use of menthol is highest among Black and Brown communities and the lesbian, gay and bisexual population.

Ending the sale of both menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars is pivotal in the effort to eliminate dramatic health inequities among U.S. tobacco users. The efforts of Big Tobacco to market and sell menthol cigarettes to the Black community has contributed to significant health disparities: over 80% of Black individuals who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black people in the U.S., claiming 45,000 Black lives every year. Black men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S.

These statistics did not happen by accident. They are the results of decades of marketing directed at Black communities by the tobacco industry. Halting the sale of these flavored tobacco products lays the groundwork for reversing decades of disparities in tobacco use, disease and death in Black and Brown communities.

Incredible Future Health Impacts

Research shows that ending the sale of menthol cigarettes would result in many people quitting smoking. One study estimates almost one million people who smoke would quit smoking within 17 months of the end of the sale of menthol cigarettes, including almost a quarter of a million Black people in the U.S. A University of Michigan study predicts that ending the sale of menthol cigarettes would save 650,000 lives in the next 40 years. 

It would also have a dramatic impact on cancer deaths. Through the Cancer Moonshot, President Biden has a goal of preventing more than 4 million cancer deaths by 2047. This goal is only achievable by reducing smoking and use of tobacco products, and these lifesaving menthol rules are a vital part of achieving that goal.

Opposition to the Rules

As officials get closer to finalizing these rules, the tobacco industry is working harder to try to stop the rule to protect their profits at the expense of the public health. This is not new to us at the American Lung Association. The tobacco industry regularly works to undermine, thwart or delay proven policies to reduce tobacco use and protect people from their addictive and deadly products. 

The tobacco industry claims that these rules will harm small businesses, create illicit markets and heighten social justice and policing issues that impact the Black community. We have seen this before and will see it again. This is just the tobacco industry trying to protect their profits.

Here are three tobacco industry arguments debunked: 

1. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes will not result in more police brutality and incarceration for the Black community. Excessive force and systemic racism are problems that must be addressed; however, we must also concurrently work on lifesaving public health measures. The rules only apply to manufacturers, distributors and retailers of the product—not an individual’s use or possession of them.

2. These rules will not create black markets or illicit sales.

The tobacco industry’s decades-long claims of widespread illicit sales of tobacco products and a black market are one fear tactic. FDA has tools at its disposal to mitigate any illicit sales that do happen, including putting in place a track and trace system for tobacco products that would allow FDA to track products through a unique identification code.

3. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will not harm small businesses or the economy. 

Ending the sale of these products will not significantly impact small businesses or the economy. A recent report from Tobacconomics found that ending the “sale of flavored tobacco products does not harm retail business.”

In addition, according to the CDC, Cigarette smoking costs the U.S. more than $600 billion, including more than $240 billion in healthcare spending. With fewer people smoking, these costs will be significantly reduced. 

The bottom line is that ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will be a tremendous health victory. 

Please join me in urging the Biden administration to finalize the proposed rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars by the end of the year to save lives and protect our youth. Sign the petition at Lung.org/Stop-Menthol.

For those who are ready to start their quit journey, there are resources available.

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