On April 28, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed rules to prohibit menthol in cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars. The AARC commends the FDA for this historic move to eliminate these products to protect our nation’s children from addiction and save lives.
Eliminating menthol cigarettes will protect children from tobacco addiction, save lives, and reduce health disparities, especially among Black communities. Menthol cigarettes are a major reason tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives every year.
Respiratory therapists who treat individuals with chronic respiratory disease know all too well the devasting effects smoking tobacco has on quality of life. Smoking is the primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide. The AARC applauds all actions that can prevent today’s youth from starting down a long path of tobacco addiction that will impact their health and quality of life in later years.
Scientific evidence shows that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, easier for children to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. Menthol cools and numbs the throat and masks the harshness of tobacco smoke, which makes it easier for children to start smoking and eventually become addicted. Half of all children who have ever tried smoking started with menthol cigarettes, and 41% of all current high school smokers use menthol cigarettes.
The FDA and its Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee have repeatedly concluded that eliminating menthol cigarettes would benefit public health in the United States, especially among Black Americans. A recent study estimated that, from 1980 to 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 10.1 million extra smokers, 378,000 premature deaths, and 3 million life years lost in the U.S. That’s roughly 10,000 premature deaths and 265,000 new smokers each year.
Eliminating flavored cigars will also protect children, save lives, and reduce health disparities. The 2021 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. Flavored cigars are sold in over 250 flavors and have flooded the market in recent years and fueled the popularity of cigars with children. Flavors like banana smash, cherry dynamite, and chocolate, as well as menthol, make it easier for children to become addicted. Seventy-four percent of youth cigar smokers report that they smoke cigars “because they come in flavors I like.”
There is strong support for prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from a wide range of public health organizations and others. The AARC was among a broad coalition of 77 public health, medical, education, and community organizations who wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf earlier this year to support prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
The AARC urges the FDA to finalize and implement this lifesaving policy without delay.
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