Former U.S. Surgeons General are calling on the Biden administration to finalize FDA rules that would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. This urgent appeal underscores the detrimental impact of these products, particularly on racial and ethnic minority groups, and highlights the disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes in Black communities.
The Deadly Toll of Menthol Cigarettes
Smoking has long been recognized as a leading cause of preventable death and disease. The harmful effects are even more pronounced with menthol cigarettes, which are especially appealing to young people, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, women, people with low incomes, and those with mental health conditions. The FDA estimates that banning menthol cigarettes could save up to 654,000 lives over the next 40 years, including as many as 238,000 Black lives. Thus, there is a clear and pressing need to act in the interest of public health and prioritize the ban on these products.
The Controversy Surrounding the Proposed Ban
While the ban on menthol cigarettes is supported by a group of North Carolina doctors and health care researchers, it has also sparked controversy. Health advocacy groups are disappointed, and the decision has split Black Civil Rights groups. Some conservatives view this as an opportunity to sway Black voters away from Biden and the Democrats. There is also concern about the potential for discrimination and incarceration due to the ban, with the Reason Foundation suggesting that states may create their own penalties for the possession or sale of menthol cigarettes.
Efforts to Raise Awareness
As the debate rages on, efforts are being made to raise awareness about the health dangers of tobacco, especially in marginalized communities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resumed the 'Tips From Former Smokers' campaign, featuring stories of former smokers who suffered health issues due to smoking menthol cigarettes. The campaign has shown promise, with the first iteration prompting 16.4 million smokers to try to quit, and 1 million successfully doing so.
The Biden administration could finalize the ban as soon as March. However, there is a call for more stakeholders to be brought on board and for enhanced warnings on menthol cigarette packages. Despite the delays and controversies, it is undeniable that the issue merits urgent attention and action. As articulated by the Surgeons General, the administration must follow the science, prioritize the health of children, families, and communities, and eliminate these deadly products for good.