BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The FDA has pushed forward an initiative to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and prohibit all characterizing flavors in cigars.
Their hope is to significantly reduce disease and death from tobacco use and increase the number of smokers who quit.
“We know this rule will save lives. It has the potential to save many lives. A study that looked at 1980 to 2018 shows that there were additional 10 million menthol smokers added to big tobacco's roles during that time. That translates to 378,000 premature deaths. So, we are talking about the potential to save many, many lives, and we need to do it as soon as possible.”
Robin Koval, CEO & President of Truth Initiative, a national public health non-profit dedicated to achieving a culture where young people reject smoking, vaping and nicotine said this will also have a positive impact on the Black community.
“We also know that the Black community has been disproportionately impacted by menthol for many, many years. 85% of Black individuals who smoke menthols.”
President and CEO of the Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce Nick Hill said for that reason he was excited about the FDA proposal.
“It’s about time. The reason why I say that is because they’ve always targeted the African American community first. You know when all the experiments come around you know normally it's in the disadvantaged underserved areas.”
Hill said tobacco companies have preyed on Black consumers and neighborhoods mentioning how many smoke shops you see in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods as opposed to predominantly white neighborhoods.
Medical Director/Oncologist at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Dr. Ravi Patel said because these cigarettes are flavored people think they are less dangerous.
“You can develop respiration in the lungs, you can develop a condition called popcorn lung and that causes significant damage.”
Tobacco use has a direct correlation with cancer.
According to the FDA, just last year approximately 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States were caused by smoking.
One concern about this new proposal, though, is how local and state law enforcement would enforce the law.
“If you’re going to ban the flavored cigarettes, and menthol, and things like that, well you also have to look at this as a sickness as well. You can't lock people up and put them in jail for a habit that the cigarette industry, or the cigar industry, has created and it’s really prevalent in the African American neighborhood. That just will not fly and if they try to do that then that’s up to us, as far as our chambers, as far as our NAACP, and other organizations that we have at our disposal, to take notice and say something about this.”
According to the FDA, the proposed product standards are based on clear science and evidence establishing the addictiveness and harm of these products.
This new proposal is meant to be an extension of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which prohibited all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco and menthol) in cigarettes in 2009.
Another goal in introducing this legislation is to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years. Koval said this proposal is the first step.
“Menthol has long been a starter product for young people who start smoking combustible tobacco. We also need the companion rule which will take flavored cigars off the market, too, because any flavor is going to be attractive to young people. We know that. It's a starter product. It makes it easier for young people to start.”
Koval said menthol is so attractive because it leaves smokers with a minty taste which shields the harshness of smoking.
In 2019, there were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the U.S., with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults, African American and other racial and ethnic groups according to the FDA.
They believe with this ban they will reduce smoking by 15% over the next 40 years.