In April, APHA signed on to a petition urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of menthol in cigarettes, citing the fact that young people and members of racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately harmed by the mint flavoring. Today, the FDA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking related to the potential regulation of menthol cigarettes, stating that the taste correlates with smoking addiction.

The agency called menthol cigarettes “a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes” in a study published today on its website.

“Menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking,” the FDA wrote. “These findings, combined with the evidence indicating that menthol’s cooling and anesthetic properties can reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and the evidence indicating that menthol cigarettes are marketed as a smoother alternative to non-menthol cigarettes, make it likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes.”

The agency requested electronic or written comments from the public to be submitted to the Federal Register within 60 days. After that, it will determine if the available data warrants regulatory action, in which case it would propose an explicit rule on menthol cigarettes.

With passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, the FDA banned every flavor of fruity- and candy-like additives in cigarettes — except for menthol. In a commentary published in June, APHA executive director Georges Benjamin and American Legacy Foundation’s Cheryl Healton argued for a menthol ban and discussed the unequal harms of menthol cigarettes, including:

  • In 2009, 83 percent of African-American smokers used menthol cigarettes, compared to just 24 percent of white smokers;
  • 48 percent of 12- to 17-year-old smokers in the U.S. smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 31 percent of smokers over 26 years old; and
  • despite declines in non-menthol cigarette use among youth in recent years, menthol use has remained stable.

“Beyond mere words, the actions of the FDA on this issue will show just how serious it is about addressing health disparities in America,” Benjamin and Healton wrote.