Flavored cigars and cigarillos are especially popular among children, particularly Black and Hispanic kids, who are twice as likely to smoke them as their White classmates.
noted that one survey found that nearly 74% of teens 12 to 17 said they smoked cigars because they came in flavors that they enjoyed.
In 2020, more young people said they tried a cigar every day than tried a cigarette.
“We’ve seen in the past, limitations are placed on one product but not on another. The business quickly gravitates, it’s so important for these rules to happen together,” the Truth Initiative’s Koval said.
Menthol cigarettes were initially sold on the premise that they were smoother
and even healthier
than regular tobacco, but no type of cigarette smoking can be healthy.
Menthol also seems to raise the odds that a casual smoker would become a more regular one. A 2009 study
found that menthol cigarettes were more addictive than tobacco-flavored ones, and a 2015 study
found that the flavor may make smokers want to smoke more.
For Black smokers and other people of color, part of the appeal may also lie in the marketing. The tobacco industry aggressively targeted
these communities, the CDC notes, placing large signs for menthol products in predominantly Black neighborhoods and ads in Black newspapers.
The same is true for the LGBTQ community, which was targeted with product giveaways and ads in LGBTQ publications at least as early as the 1990s. Major tobacco companies have also been prominent supporters of Pride parades and other community events.
Support, opposition from rights groups
Some activists, like the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Mothers of the Movement
, have warned that a ban on menthol products could cause more violent encounters with police as they enforce the rule.
Anti-smoking advocates have found
that Sharpton and some other civil rights organizations have received money from cigarette makers for decades. Sharpton acknowledged to the New York Times
in 2019 that Reynolds American has been a longtime donor to his National Action Network but said, “this is not about money.”
Other groups, like the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, are in favor of a ban.
The FDA is careful to say
that its enforcement of a ban would only “address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product.”
What could happen next
An FDA ban on menthol and flavored cigars wouldn’t go into effect right away.
The next step would be a comment period, and the agency would take time to review the comments before a rule becomes finalized. The FDA said it can’t speculate on when that might happen.
“That is supposed to be about a year, and we hope the FDA will keep to that timetable. They’ve missed a lot of other timetables,” Koval
Public health experts believe that tobacco companies would also try to stop a ban.
“We fully expect the tobacco industry, as they have done in the past, to try to delay further with lawsuits,” Koval said. “There is still a long road ahead, but this is a very important first step.”
If the rule stands, public health experts say, the decision could go a long way toward protecting American’s health.
“Menthol has been a way in for the tobacco industry to hook young people on tobacco and target Black Americans. It’s been intentional. It’s been intentional and worked, highly effective,” Besser said. “So to take that off the table and say ‘no menthol,’ menthol is just another flavor. And it’s a flavor that is really dangerous because it makes it easier for first-time smokers to smoke and harder for people to quit. And so getting that out of there will be a wonderful thing.”