Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 16, 2019.
FDA on Thursday unveiled the agency's plan to ban the sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes and cigars in the United States and limit the sales of flavored electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).
FDA plans to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, cigars
In a press release, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency is developing a rule to ban the sale of menthol traditional cigarettes and cigars in the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal, FDA could take a year or more to finalize the rule, and might take another year to enforce the rule.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, "[M]enthol serves to mask some of the unattractive features of smoking that might otherwise discourage a child from smoking." He said menthol products "exacerbate troubling disparities in health related to race and socioeconomic status."
According to the Journal, FDA also plans to order tobacco companies to remove certain flavored cigars from the market, and separately is developing regulations to completely ban the sales of flavored cigars in the United States. Those actions likely would apply to all flavored cigars, not just menthol-flavored cigars.
FDA plans to restrict sales of flavored e-cigs
In addition, Gottlieb said he has directed the agency's Center for Tobacco Products to revise the agency's 2017 compliance policy for ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) products that are flavored. The changes FDA is pursuing would limit the sales of certain flavored e-cigarettes to brick-and-mortar and online stores with age-restricted entry or areas not accessible to individuals under age 18, the Washington Post reports. An agency official said the restrictions essentially would ban certain flavored e-cigarettes from being sold in convenience stores and gas stations, but not from being sold in vape or tobacco stores, according to the Post.
FDA said the restrictions will apply to all e-cigarette flavors except mint and menthol. Gottlieb said the agency exempted mint and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes from the restrictions as part of a "careful balancing" of concerns about e-cigarettes leading youth to smoke traditional cigarettes, but helping adults quit smoking cigarettes, the Post reports. Gottlieb said FDA might consider restricting sales of mint and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes if the agency does not see a decline in e-cigarette use among youth.
Many public health experts applauded FDA's move, but some called for the agency to take a more comprehensive approach.
Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "The proposal to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars has the potential to have a greater impact on youth tobacco use and tobacco use among African Americans than any regulatory measure every undertaken by the federal government." However, Myers said FDA's actions on e-cigarettes "fall short of what's needed."
Robin Koval, CEO of Truth Initiative, expressed support for FDA's plan to ban menthol-flavored cigars and cigarettes, but said FDA also should restrict the sales of mint- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes.
Other observers criticized the move, saying it would negatively affect adults who use e-cigarettes to quit smoking.
Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores, said, "I don't think they know where the law allows the FDA to ban hundreds of thousands of stores from selling a legal product."
A spokesperson for Reynolds American, the company behind the menthol cigarette brand Newport, said any FDA regulations seeking to ban menthol cigarettes would "be subject to judicial review," meaning FDA could face a legal challenge to the effort. The spokesperson said Reynolds American "believe[s] the evidence shows that menthol does not encourage people to smoke, make smoking harder to quit, or increase the risks to health compared to cigarettes without menthol" (McGinley, Washington Post, 11/15; Fox, NBC News, 11/15; Maloney/McGinty, Wall Street Journal, 11/15; FDA release, 11/15).
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