“Vaping products and cigarettes can interfere with adolescent brain development. Nicotine is highly addictive and can prepare young brains for addition to other drugs, such as opioids or methamphetamine.
Sophisticated readers may have seen this warning in a recent Daily News advertisement, as well as the alarming fact from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that the current use of tobacco and vape products in the area Northeastern Nebraska 4 is above the Nebraska average. In this region, more than 17% of 12th graders smoke regularly, and almost 34% vape regularly.
The warning also alerted the public that young people are particularly drawn to flavored liquids which give off a sweet or minty scent. The same could be said of menthol cigarettes.
Studies have shown that almost half of all children who smoke start with menthol cigarettes. From 1980 to 2018, menthol encouraged 10.1 million more Americans to smoke and was responsible for 378,000 more premature deaths and a total of 3 million years of life lost, according to a recent study.
Congress banned most flavors of cigarettes – candy, fruit, chocolate, and more – in 2009, but menthol, the most popular, was left with the Food and Drug Administration. Even though the FDA announced in April that the agency would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within a year, it doesn’t go far enough.
At least eight states are considering legislation this year that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, vaping products, and smokeless tobacco like snuff or chew tobacco. The FDA should follow the lead of these states.
While menthols make up just over a third of the total cigarette market, 85% of black smokers smoke them. While a ban could create a new sticking point between African Americans and law enforcement, it’s also possible, however, that a menthol ban would persuade more African American smokers to quit. After menthol cigarettes were banned in much of Canada, daily menthol smokers began to quit almost twice as fast as other smokers.
What is certain is that allowing menthol cigarettes to stay on the market will continue to spur heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and other health issues that disproportionately plague black Americans.
The FDA should protect the lives of all Americans by banning menthol from all forms of tobacco consumption, not just cigarettes and cigars.