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To Protect the Health of African Americans, FDA Must Act Now to Prohibit Menthol Cigarettes

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 18, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) to compel the FDA to end years of delay and finally prohibit menthol cigarettes, which have caused such enormous harm to the health of African Americans.

With African Americans suffering so disproportionately from COVID-19 and growing evidence that smoking can increase the severity of the disease, it is more urgent than ever that the FDA prohibit menthol cigarettes and stop the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing of menthols to African Americans, kids and other vulnerable populations. The FDA’s repeated failure to prohibit menthol cigarettes has cost lives. By acting now to prohibit menthol cigarettes, the FDA can save lives – especially Black lives – and take a significant step to address the shocking health disparities that plague our nation.

The FDA has missed opportunity after opportunity to end the sale of menthol cigarettes, and it has no excuse for failing to act now. It has been more than 10 years since Congress passed the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which directed the FDA to make it a priority to address the impact of menthol cigarettes on public health. In 2011, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee issued a comprehensive report that concluded, “Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.” In 2013, the FDA issued its own report concluding that menthol cigarettes result in more young people starting to smoke, greater addiction, and decreased success in quitting smoking.

Also in 2013, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, AATCLC and other public health and medical organizations petitioned the FDA to act. Since that time, on multiple other occasions, Tobacco-Free Kids along with our public health partners have urged the FDA to act and provided the FDA with the most up to date scientific evidence. Yet, despite this accumulating evidence to support eliminating menthol cigarettes, growing public support and its own promises to act, the FDA has failed to do so.

This inaction – and the predatory industry behavior it has allowed to continue – has had a devastating impact on the health of African Americans. Today, seven out of ten African-American youth smokers and 85% of all African-Americans smokers smoke menthols. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death for African Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives each year. African Americans quit smoking at lower rates and suffer high rates of tobacco-related diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and diabetes – many of which increase risk for COVID-19.

By prohibiting menthol cigarettes, the FDA can greatly improve the health of African Americans, save countless lives and take concrete action to advance health equity in our country.