The proposal would have to go through the FDA regulatory maze, and it could be several years before such a restriction took effect.
In a landmark move bound to further shake the tobacco industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes next week as part of its aggressive campaign against flavored e-cigarettes and some tobacco products, agency officials said.
The proposal would have to go through the FDA regulatory maze, and it could be several years before such a restriction took effect, especially if the major tobacco companies contest the agency’s authority to do so. None of the major tobacco companies would comment on the possibility of barring menthol cigarettes at this early stage.
But such a move has been long-awaited by public-health advocates, who have been especially concerned about the high percentage of African Americans who become addicted to menthol cigarettes.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the agency’s commissioner, would not comment publicly on the proposal Friday. But in a recent interview, he said the FDA was revisiting the issue, one that had been weighed in previous administrations. “It was a mistake for the agency to back away on menthol,” he said earlier.
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Canada has already imposed a ban on menthol cigarettes, and the European Union’s (EU) ban is set to go into effect in 2020. This year, San Francisco passed a prohibition against the sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.
The menthol proposal is just one of several initiatives the FDA plans to announce, including a ban on sales of most flavored e-cigarettes, except menthol and mint, at retail stores and gas stations across the country. The products, which include such flavors as chicken-and-waffles and mango, would be mainly relegated to sales online, at sites where the agency hopes to impose strict age verification to ensure that minors could not buy them.
As e-cigarettes became a booming business and extremely popular among teenagers and young people, health officials, parents and others became alarmed at the soaring use of nicotine-addicting products. The FDA began targeting the major manufacturers of e-cigarettes, focusing in particular on Juul Labs.
Just a day after agency officials began issuing details of the plan to ban some sales, Juul Labs indicated Friday that it had decided to pull several of its wildly popular flavored e-cigarette pods off store shelves, according to several people briefed by the company.
The vaping giant will continue to sell its liquid-nicotine pods in mint, menthol and tobacco flavors in brick-and-mortar stores, but will restrict other flavors that could be appealing to younger people to online sales.
Juul Labs launched the pod device, which resembles a flash drive, in 2015, and has about 77 percent of the United States e-cigarette market.
Last month, a competitor, Altria, said it would discontinue most of its flavored e-cigarettes and support federal legislation to raise the age of purchase to 21 for any tobacco and vaping product.
The battle against menthol cigarettes has continued for decades.
According to the NAACP’s Youth Against Menthol campaign, about 85 percent of African-American smokers aged 12 and older smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 29 percent of white smokers, something the organization calls a result of decades of culturally tailored tobacco company promotion.
The most popular menthol brand in the United States is Newport, which is the second-largest-selling cigarette brand in the industry, according to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Imperial Brands has two strong sellers, Kool and Salem. Altria’s best-selling cigarette, Marlboro, is also available in menthol, as is RJR’s Camel.
In a joint statement Friday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and several other public-health groups said action on menthol cigarettes was long overdue.
“There is overwhelming scientific evidence that menthol cigarettes have had a profound adverse effect on public health in the United States, resulting in more death and disease,” the organizations said.
Although federal health officials released new reports this week that indicated traditional smoking had reached a record low since 1965, smoking-related deaths still number about 480,000 in the United States every year.