Menthol ban a bad idea

Monday, November 19, 2018
Chris Woodward (

smoking cigarette closeupThe FDA is proposing a ban on menthol cigarettes, but one observer warns this could do more harm than good.

During an interview last week with CBS News, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said menthol is one of the primary vehicles by which kids are initiating on tobacco.

"If you look at the data of kids who are smoking combustible cigarettes, fully 54 percent of kids between the age of 12 and 17 are using mentholated cigarettes," he explained. "For African-American teens, it's seven out of ten, so we know menthol is one of the primary vehicles that's getting kids hooked on tobacco, in large part because the menthol flavor masks some of the undesirable features of smoking, [like] the burning sensation and the coughing that comes with using a cigarette for the first time."

  • Historically, the marketing and promotion of menthol cigarettes have been targeted heavily toward African Americans through culturally tailored advertising images and messages.
  • Nearly 9 of every 10 African American smokers (88.5%) aged 12 years and older prefer menthol cigarettes.
  • Menthol in cigarettes is thought to make harmful chemicals more easily absorbed in the body, likely because menthol makes it easier to inhale cigarette smoke.
  • Some research shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.
  • Menthol products are given more shelf space in retail outlets within African American and other minority neighborhoods.

Excerpted from CDC Report
"African Americans and Tobacco Use"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published similar findings, adding that "nearly nine of every ten African-American smokers (88.5 percent) aged 12 years and older prefer menthol cigarettes."


Whatever the case may be, Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, says this is something that even the Obama FDA refused to do.

"The Obama administration saw that people like Al Sharpton and a former CEO of the NAACP opposed banning menthol, because menthol cigarettes are the flavor of choice for African-American smokers, and thought it would be bad in this environment to have more negative interactions between African-Americans in the community," Stier explains. "The police and leadership in the black community have been opposed to this."

Stier adds that black smokers will not just simply give up the habit.

"One black smoker told The Wall Street Journal that if they take away his menthol cigarettes, he'll just switch to Marlboro," Stier continues. "The FDA should be advising people that it is the right thing to do to quit smoking, but we're not going to achieve smoking cessation through product bans. Instead, we can achieve them through education and harm reduction, that is switch to much lower risk e-cigarettes, which can help you quit smoking and, according to Public Health England, are 95 percent less harmful than cigarette smoking."

Therein lies another problem. The Food and Drug Administration is not exactly sold on the idea of e-cigarettes. Commissioner Gottlieb has expressed concerns over the products, due in part to a surge in use by kids under the legal age.

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