Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
That is why, on April 29, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within the next year. The aim is to save lives and prevent future generations of smokers.
This decision was made in response to a citizen petition filed in 2013.
Public health and civil rights groups have long argued people of color have been disproportionately harmed by menthol cigarettes. The tobacco has industry targeted its ads at Black and Latino communities for decades.
“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA leader, in a statement.
How Will This Ban on Menthol Impact Latinos?
According Nearly 18.6 million people are current smokers of menthol cigarettes. Youth who smoke are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than older smokers.
In 2019, menthol cigarette brands constituted 37% of the cigarette market, an all-time high.
Among adults, 85.8% of Black smokers and 46% of Latino smokers use mentholated brands. This is more than Asian smokers (39%) and white smokers (28.7%).
“Studies show that menthol increases the appeal of tobacco and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly among youth and young adults,” according to the FDA. “Menthol masks unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using. Tobacco products with menthol can also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine.”
Youth ages 18-21 are most at risk of becoming habitual smokers. Longer duration of smoking is associated with increased risk for lung cancer, lung cancer death, and coronary heart disease.
Latinos have lower smoking rates, and lower lung cancer rates. But they still face poor lung cancer outcomes.
The FDA’s plan to ban menthol will “profoundly impact cancer diagnoses and mortality and reduce cancer disparities,” said Dr. Peter Pisters of UT MD Anderson in a statement.
“It will protect the health of some of our most vulnerable populations, who may decide to quit or not begin smoking as a result of this decision,” Pisters said.
The FDA’s Woodcock agreed.
“Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact. Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the Administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.” Woodcok said in her statement.
What Are Other Ways to Reduce Smoking?
The FDA’s plan to ban menthol will require a public comment period. Our team at Salud America! will promote this opportunity for people to submit a comment.
But the ban seems likely to reach fruition.
“The FDA’s plan represents a significant step to improve public health, once the policies are enacted,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., division head and vice president of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at MD Anderson, in statement in response to FDA’s decision. “[The menthol bans will help in] ultimately reducing health disparities and advancing the elimination of cancer through effective tobacco control.”
Also other efforts are rising to reduce smoking.
The rules on the age for buying cigarettes and e-cigarettes are tightening up. On June 18, 2021, tobacco companies have to comply with FDA’s requirement of adding graphic warning labels on all cigarette packs.
Also, seven influential campaigns are working to reduce youth vaping, too.
“Youth vaping is one of the biggest obstacles we face in helping to create the first tobacco-free generation,” said Eileen Howard Boone of CVS in a press release.
Quitxt Can Help You Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking remains the best choice to improve health and reduce your risk for lung cancer.
Latino adults smoke cigarettes at a lower rate (12.1%) than their white peers (19.4%).
But, once they’ve started, Latinos are more likely to keep smoking and only half as likely as whites to successfully quit smoking, according to a Salud America! report.
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