US proposes ban on menthol cigarettes popular with black smokers

U.S. regulators have proposed to ban menthol cigarettes, targeting a flavor that accounts for about a third of the nation’s total sales, in a bid to quell tobacco-related illness and death.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will draft product standards next year that, if approved, would ban cigarettes that taste like menthol, the only flavor additive still permitted. He also proposed to ban any type of flavor in cigars.

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Tobacco Center, said new flavor standards “would reduce the initiation and use of cigarettes and cigars. . . help save lives and improve public health in our country as we tackle the leading cause of preventable disease and death ”.

Menthol cigarettes have been marketed for decades in black communities in the United States: about 85% of black smokers buy menthols, compared to about 30% of white smokers, according to the FDA.

“Despite the tremendous progress we have made in getting people to quit smoking over the past 55 years, this progress has not been experienced by everyone in the same way,” Zeller added.

The announcement is only the first step in a regulatory process that is expected to take years, and tobacco groups are likely to fight it. It’s not the first country to follow this path – menthol cigarettes were banned in the EU and UK last May.

Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, said that while she shares the goal of shifting smokers to less harmful alternatives, “Prohibition doesn’t work.” The US-based group said it would “continue to engage in this multi-year process.”

British American Tobacco challenged the scientific accuracy of the studies on which the FDA based its decision, arguing that it would participate in the “regulatory process by submitting strong, science-based evidence”.

The UK-based group, which is behind the popular menthol brand Newport, previously said 91% of menthol smokers switched to menthol-free cigarettes after they were banned in the EU, while The remaining 9% had switched to menthol vaping. devices.

The US branch of Imperial, the maker of the menthol cigarette Kool, said in a statement that “the regulatory process will reveal that there is no clear scientific evidence to support a federal ban on menthol and flavorings.” . He is committed to “ensuring that the voices of our adult consumers and our wholesale and retail partners are represented”.

BAT shares fell more than 2% on Thursday afternoon, with a 1% drop in Altria and Imperial Tobacco shares have been under pressure for a few weeks as the FDA proposes to propose a ban.

Jefferies analyst Owen Bennett said he was “pretty relaxed” about the FDA’s proposal. “Today’s update is still not about the proposed rules, but the commitment to publish the proposed rules [and it] it will take years before a final rule, ”he added.

The FDA action came in response to a lawsuit filed by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Action on Smoking and Health, which sued the agency for failing to respond to a 2013 citizens’ petition that urged him to ban menthol cigarettes.