8 Questions From The Wall Street Journal Why Is The U.S. Banning Menthol Cigarettes

On April 29, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration in the United States is advancing a plan to ban menthol cigarettes(e-sigarette & conventional cigarette), which account for more than one-third of all cigarettes sold in the United States each year.


The FDA has been working on the program since 2009, when federal legislation banned candy, fruit and flavorings in cigarettes because of their potential appeal to children, but the menthol issue remains unresolved. The proposed ban has important implications for both smokers and tobacco companies. This is to know.


What does the ban cover?

The FDA intends to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars in the United States. The agency said it was considering allowing exemptions on a case-by-case basis for certain products, such as heated tobacco devices or cigarettes(herbal heatsticks) with very low nicotine content.


When will it take effect?

Not for at least two years — and probably longer. The FDA released the proposed rule on Thursday and invited public comment, which the agency must then review. The FDA could issue a final rule as early as 2023 and could take effect as early as 2024. At least two tobacco companies have said they may follow suit; lawsuits could further delay the ban.


Will menthol e-cigarettes be banned too?

The menthol cigarette ban does not apply to menthol e-cigarettes(herbal heat stick). But the FDA is individually reviewing all vaping products on the U.S. market, keeping a close eye on those with menthol flavors. The agency’s mandate is to authorize the use of vaping products only if their manufacturers can demonstrate that they are in the public health interest. As part of that review, the FDA is weighing whether the potential benefits of menthol e-cigarettes as an alternative to adult smokers outweigh their appeal to children and teens.


The agency said it will soon decide whether the biggest e-cigarette brands, including Juul and Vuse Alto, can keep their products on the market. Both brands currently offer tobacco- and mint-flavored pods. To date, the FDA has ordered more than 1 million flavored vaping products from the market, including liquids in flavors such as apple crumble, cola and cinnamon toast.


Which companies have the greatest stake in a menthol cigarette ban?

For tobacco companies, menthol is an important part of the cigarette business. Because menthol smokers are younger, they represent a longer potential smoking lifespan. Over the past decade, menthol has become an increasing share of U.S. cigarette sales.


A menthol ban in the United States would be a huge blow to British American Tobacco, which in 2017 spent about $50 billion to take full control of Reynolds American. Reynolds manufactures Newport, America’s leading brand of menthol cigarettes. Menthol accounts for more than half of BAT’s U.S. cigarette sales and about 30% of its global profits, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Pamela Kaufman.


Marlboro maker Altria is No. 2 in the U.S. menthol cigarette market. The company has struggled to expand its presence in the menthol category over the past few years, launching new products such as Marlboro Ice, Marlboro Bold Ice and Benson & Hedges Menthol.


What are menthol cigarettes?

Menthol is a compound that occurs naturally in the peppermint plant and has been added to cigarettes since the 1920s. Menthol cigarettes produce a cooling sensation in the mouth and throat, similar to menthol cough drops. Health officials say this relieves throat irritation caused by cigarette smoke, making menthol more appealing to young adults and people who have never smoked. Menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance the addictive effects of nicotine, according to the FDA.


Why ban them?

The Tobacco Control Act of 2009 allows the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes if it can demonstrate a net public health benefit from the ban, taking into account potential unintended consequences, such as the illicit market. The law ordered the FDA’s Tobacco Products Advisory Committee to study the issue. The FDA concluded in 2013 that menthol is more difficult to quit than regular cigarettes and may pose a greater risk to health. U.S. health officials say a menthol ban will reduce teenage entry, increase the success of smokers trying to quit and address health disparities among people of color. The ban is also part of the Biden administration’s cancer moonshot plan, which aims to reduce cancer mortality by at least 50% over the next 25 years.


Menthol is the cigarette of choice for black smokers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of heart disease, cancer and stroke — the top three leading causes of death among African Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black Americans are dying from smoking-related cancers at a higher rate than the rest of the population.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12.5 percent of U.S. adults, or 30.8 million people, will be smokers in 2020.


A recent study by the University of Waterloo in Canada predicts that a U.S. ban on menthol cigarettes will prompt 1.3 million smokers to quit, including more than 380,000 black smokers, in the first 4 to 23 months after the ban goes into effect.


Who smokes menthol cigarettes?

For decades, cigarette companies sold menthol brands like Newport, Kool and Salem to blacks, distributed free packs in black communities, and placed ads in magazines and billboards depicting carefree black smokers. These companies also encourage people to believe that menthol has soothing properties and has medicinal properties.


According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, menthol use among U.S. smokers has continued to rise, from 30.5 percent in 2005 to 43 percent in 2020.


In the United States, 81% of black smokers and 51% of Hispanic smokers used menthol in 2020, compared with 30% of white smokers.


Is the tobacco industry fighting the ban?

yes. In 2011, two tobacco companies sued the FDA over an advisory committee’s preliminary review of menthol cigarettes. Reynolds and Altria have hinted they could go to court if the menthol ban goes into effect.


Altria and Reynolds disputed the FDA’s conclusions about the health effects of menthol, arguing that the ban would have unintended consequences.


Reynolds funded opposition efforts led by prominent black community leaders. They said a menthol ban would expand the illegal cigarette market and lead to police racial discrimination against black smokers. Some members of the ACLU and the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed similar concerns.


The FDA and supporters of menthol bans in other countries, including the NAACP, counter that the ban would apply to manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, not individual consumers.