In June 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law, banning the sale of all flavored cigarettes except menthol ones. Flavored cigars escaped the prohibition, too. Now, as CNN reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to do away with both menthol cigarettes and cigars of any flavor (including menthol) within a year.
Though smoking has definitely decreased in recent years, it’s still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. The FDA is hoping that further curtailing access to flavored tobacco products will help current smokers quit and prevent prospective smokers from ever picking up the habit in the first place. Flavors can dull tobacco’s undesirable taste and make cigars and cigarettes more palatable to new smokers, particularly young ones. According to an FDA press release, almost 74 percent of cigar smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 like cigars specifically because they’re flavored. And after flavored cigarettes were banned in 2009, flavored cigars increased in popularity.
Menthol cigarettes are just as hazardous, and some research has even suggested that menthol can actually magnify nicotine’s effects and therefore add to their addictiveness. The health risks related to smoking menthol cigarettes disproportionately affect Black Americans, in part because advertisers focus on marketing menthols to them. Eighty-five percent of all Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, while only about 30 percent of white smokers use them.
“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally,” FDA Center for Tobacco Products director Mitch Zeller said in a statement. “These flavor standards would reduce cigarette and cigar initiation and use, reduce health disparities, and promote health equity by addressing a significant and disparate source of harm.”
The FDA only intends to use the new rules to keep flavored smokes from reaching the market, so individual people won’t have to worry about getting in trouble for smoking a flavored cigar in public or anything like that. But if menthol cigarettes are your current go-to, you might want to consider quitting before they become hard to come by.