Public health experts who have been pushing for a menthol ban for many years celebrated the news.
“We are thrilled that the FDA is taking this important step to protect all citizens, especially African Americans, from the deadly effects of menthol,” said Kelsey Romeo-Stuppy, executive attorney for Action on Smoking and Health, a tobacco control organization and a plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the proposed ban on flavored cigarettes and cigars. The plaintiffs sued the FDA last year for inaction against menthol.
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association. The lawsuit was intended in part to advance a public petition to ban menthol, filed in 2013 by the Public Health Law Center and other public health organizations.
The tobacco industry and its allies were quick to criticize the FDA’s plan. In statements sent by email, both RJ Reynolds, who makes Newport, the top-selling menthol brand in the U.S., and Altria, which makes several types of menthol, made it clear they wouldn’t sit back and wait for a ban, which is much devastating would effect their business in the United States.
“Published science supports the regulation of menthol cigarettes no differently than nonmenthol,” said Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for RJ Reynolds. “The scientific findings show neither a difference in the health risks between a menthol and a non-menthol cigarette, nor do they support that menthol cigarettes adversely affect initiation, dependence or termination.”
In fact, hours after the FDA’s proposal became known, an organization called the Law Enforcement Action Partnership sent a press release expressing its opposition to the menthol ban. The organization’s tax form shows that the largest donor for 2019 was Reynolds American Inc. Services Company, which contributed $ 450,000 to the group, more than a third of their total reported contributions and grants for the year.
The group relied on an old and discredited argument by the tobacco industry: The efforts to ban menthol are “bad for the trust of the police and the community”.
However, the FDA’s plan would only cover the manufacture, distribution, import and sale of menthol cigarettes – not wearing or smoking.