Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced a ban of the electronic cigarette Juul. This follows a proposal to do away with menthol cigarettes. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge reports on efforts to address nicotine use.

A closeup of a person's nose, mouth and hand while smoking a cigarette

The public comment period on the FDA's proposal to ban menthol cigarettes has been extended to Aug. 2, 2022.

Credit: (AP Photo/Elise Amendola), File

A proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to eliminate menthol cigarettes will save lives and reduce health disparities, especially among Black Americans, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Dr. Giridhar Mallya said.

"Menthol is the most popular cigarette among young people and among African Americans and other communities of color," he said. "There has been a process (by the FDA) to focus specifically on flavorings because we know they attract youth."

The flavor additive with a minty taste and aroma reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking, which increases its appeal and makes menthol cigarettes easier to use, particularly for young people, according to the FDA's April 22 proposal.

When finalized, the proposed menthol product standard will:

  • Reduce the appeal of cigarettes, particularly to youth and young adults, decreasing the likelihood that nonusers who would otherwise experiment with menthol cigarettes would progress to regular smoking.
  • Improve the health and reduce the mortality risk of current menthol cigarette smokers by decreasing cigarette consumption and increasing the likelihood of cessation.

If these proposed rules are finalized and implemented, 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. 

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The FDA said Thursday that the electronic cigarette manufacturer Juul must stop selling its vaping device and its tobacco and menthol flavored cartridges. The company filed an emergency motion Friday, seeking a temporary hold while it appeals the sales ban.

Juul asked for a hold to pause what it called an "extraordinary and unlawful action" by the FDA that would have required it to immediately halt its business.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted Juul's request for a hold while the court reviews the case, NPR reported.

The FDA says menthol interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects, and the combination of menthol’s flavor, sensory effects and interaction with nicotine in the brain increases the likelihood that young people who start using menthol cigarettes will progress to regular use.

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Smokers of menthol flavored cigarettes have a more difficult time quitting, Mallya said.

"Studies from other countries show that the vast majority of people would switch to a non-menthol product, but about 15% of people would quit altogether," Mallya said. "So, this isn't going to mean that every single smoker stops smoking, but on the order of the country as a whole, it might mean about 1.5 million additional smokers that stop smoking."

The public comment period has been extended until Aug. 2 for anyone, including public health experts, parents, smokers, and former smokers, to tell the FDA what they think about this proposed rule.

"Our view is that this is a really historic moment and that if the menthol ban goes into place, it will lead millions of people to quit smoking and keep millions of youth from smoking in the first place," Mallya said. "So, that's the bottom line."