Feds Anticipate Banning Menthol Cigarette and Flavored Cigar Sales by 2024

Menthol accounts for more than a quarter of all cigarette sales in the U.S.

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Boxes of menthol versions of Newport and Parliament cigarettes. One box is open, displaying rows of cigarettes.
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

The Biden administration is looking to snuff out menthol cigarette sales altogether, leaving the only available cigarette flavors available to purchase to be tobacco and…yeah, just tobacco.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the announcement Thursday. In a release, the FDA said the point is to reduce disease and death caused by tobacco use.

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Biden’s Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the release.

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President Obama originally gave the FDA power over the Tobacco industry in 2009, the same year Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which banned all flavors of cigarettes save menthol and old school tobacco. The law stipulated that the FDA could only start talking about menthol bans if it could display a net benefit to public health.

The FDA stated that smoking leads to 480,000 preventable deaths per year, adding that the cooling action of menthol makes inhaling cigarette smoke more pleasant, leading to a higher risk of use and addiction. With 18.5 million U.S. menthol users in 2019, banning the flavored cigs and cigars could reduce smoking by 15% over 40 years, the agency said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that as of 2018, menthol makes up 36% of all cigarette sales.

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The Biden administration started the process of trying to ban menthols last April, after years of concerted efforts by advocacy groups to get menthol on the list of flavored cigarette bans. Cigarette sales actually increased during the pandemic, but the Wall Street Journal reported late last year that cigarette usage was again in the decline.

The FDA still has to listen to public comment about the proposal, and then it can enact a ruling that will take until 2024 to become effective. Tobacco companies would likely sue to keep menthol on the market, as they have for recent bans on flavored e-cigarettes.

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In its proposal, the FDA estimated that the federal government would likely see losses of somewhere in the ballpark of $2 billion in federal taxes while states could lose an estimated $3.7 billion. The ban would also show a benefit due to lower mortality of approximately $5.4 billion. FDA enforcement costs could be somewhere around $700,000 a year.

The cost to companies could be in the range of $56 million to $350 million as they switch over production and liquidate stocks of menthol cigarettes, according to the FDA’s proposal.

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Though the ban wouldn’t impact e-cigarettes, the proposal does stipulate that the sale of any menthol cigarette or cigarette component containing menthol would be banned. The ban would only impact sellers instead of users, and would only be enforceable at the manufacturing and distribution level of operations by FDA enforcement, not local law enforcement.