Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
WASHINGTON, April 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — One year ago today, the FDA announced that it was proposing rules to prohibit menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars – products the tobacco industry has intentionally marketed to kids, Black Americans and other communities at enormous cost in health and lives. The FDA’s plan represents truly historic action to drive down tobacco use – the number one cause of preventable death in the United States – and, once implemented, will protect kids from tobacco addiction, advance health equity and save hundreds of thousands of lives, especially Black lives. Because of the profound benefit to our nation’s health, the FDA has an obligation to finalize and implement these rules with utmost urgency. We urge the FDA to issue final rules by its own deadline of August 2023.
The evidence is clear that prohibiting menthol cigarettes in particular will have enormous benefits for our nation’s health, especially among Black Americans:
- Prohibiting menthol cigarettes will save hundreds of thousands of lives. Researchers estimate that prohibiting menthol cigarettes would save up to 654,000 lives within 40 years, including the lives of 255,000 Black Americans. Black Americans represent over one-third of the lives that would be saved.
- Prohibiting menthol cigarettes will reduce and even eliminate health disparities. Black Americans currently die at higher rates from tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. A recent analysis by researchers at the Council on Foreign Relations found that a ban on menthol cigarettes would eliminate the disparity in lung cancer death rates between Black Americans and other U.S. racial and ethnic groups within 5 years – 25 years sooner than it would otherwise happen.
For these and other reasons, the FDA’s plan is supported by a wide range of organizations, scientists and elected officials – including the NAACP, other Black civil rights and public health organizations, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. A coalition of more than 100 public health, social justice, medical, parent, community and other organizations voiced strong support in comments submitted to the FDA.
Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry is once again putting profits before lives and going all-out to fight these rules. In particular, the industry is peddling false claims that banning menthol cigarettes will subject Black Americans to more law enforcement abuse. The industry’s claims are without merit and must be rejected:
- The FDA has made it crystal clear that its prohibition on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will apply to manufacturers and retailers – it will not make it illegal for individuals to possess or use these products. The FDA has stated, “Importantly, the FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumers for possession or use of menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars…. FDA enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers who manufacture, distribute, or sell such products within the U.S. that are not in compliance with applicable requirements. These proposed regulations do not include a prohibition on individual consumer possession or use.”
- Massachusetts in 2020 became the first state to implement a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Since then, there have been no reports of individuals being questioned, cited, arrested or otherwise harassed by law enforcement because of the law, which focuses enforcement on retailers, not individuals, and does not prohibit the purchase, use or possession of tobacco products.
Racial bias in policing is an urgent issue that must be addressed. But the tobacco industry’s predatory targeting of the Black community is an injustice that must be addressed as well. We cannot allow the tobacco industry to cynically exploit the legitimate need for police reform so it can continue to prey on Black Americans with menthol cigarettes.
Reynolds American, manufacturer of the best-selling menthol brand Newport, has been particularly shameless. An investigation by The Los Angeles Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented Reynolds’ funding of Black lobbyists and organizations to oppose laws prohibiting menthol cigarettes and stoke fears about criminalization. A prominent Black pastor and civil rights leader in Detroit said he was offered more than $200,000 from Reynolds to oppose a ban on menthol cigarettes – an offer he declined.
The Biden Administration and the FDA deserve immense credit for standing up to the tobacco industry and proposing this bold, lifesaving policy. The faster these rules are finalized and implemented, the faster we can stop the tobacco industry’s lethal targeting of Black and other communities, the more kids we will prevent from smoking, and the more lives we will save.
Key Facts: Why Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars Must Be Eliminated
The FDA’s rules are supported by overwhelming scientific evidence, and they are long overdue. Based on the evidence, the FDA has found that menthol cigarettes are easier for kids to start smoking, more addictive and harder for smokers to quit. They increase the overall number of people who smoke and become sick and die as a result. It has been more than a decade since the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that “Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States,” especially among Black Americans. All other flavors are already prohibited in cigarettes.
Eliminating menthol cigarettes will protect kids from tobacco addiction. Menthol is a chemical compound that cools and numbs the throat and masks the harshness of tobacco smoke, making it easier for kids to start smoking and become addicted smokers. Half of all youth who have ever tried smoking started with menthol cigarettes.
Because of the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing, menthol cigarettes have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the health of Black Americans.
- For more than 60 years, the tobacco industry has deliberately targeted Black communities with marketing for menthol cigarettes through magazine ads, sponsorship of community and music events, free samples and other tactics. Black neighborhoods have more tobacco retailers, more advertising for menthol cigarettes, and more price promotions for menthol cigarettes. The result: In the 1950s, less than 10% of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes; today, that number is 85%.
- The industry’s targeted marketing has caused enormous harm to the health of Black Americans. Tobacco use is the number cause of preventable death among Black Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives each year. Largely because of highly addictive menthol cigarettes, Black smokers have a harder time quitting smoking and die at higher rates from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke.
- Research has found that menthol cigarettes were responsible for 378,000 premature deaths in the U.S. from 1980 to 2018. A staggering 41% of these premature deaths – 157,000 in total – were among Black Americans, who accounted for 12% of the U.S. population during this period.
Eliminating flavored cigars will also protect kids and reduce health disparities. Cheap, flavored cigars are sold in hundreds of kid-friendly flavors, like banana smash, cherry dynamite and chocolate. These flavored products have flooded the market in recent years and fueled the popularity of cigars with kids. The 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that cigars are the second most popular tobacco product (after e-cigarettes) among all high school students and are especially popular among Black high school students.
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SOURCE Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids