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A legal action calls for the prohibition of menthol-flavored cigarettes

On Tuesday, anti-smoking organizations filed a lawsuit against the United States government, seeking a ban on menthol cigarettes and accusing the Biden administration of postponing the implementation.

Naturally occurring in peppermint and related plants, menthol is significantly favored by African American smokers. This preference can be attributed to targeted marketing strategies by tobacco companies and the appeal to younger generations.

In April 2022, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested prohibiting menthol. Initially, health authorities aimed to release the definitive regulation by the previous August. However, they failed to meet this deadline and subsequently postponed the intended completion date to last month.

The deadline has elapsed, leading to a legal action compelling the FDA and its overseeing body, the Department of Health and Human Services, to enforce a prohibition.

The lawsuit, filed in Oakland, California’s federal court, states that due to the defendants’ lack of action, tobacco companies have persisted in employing menthol cigarettes to specifically target youth, women, and the African American community, which has negatively impacted public health.

Under the 2009 legislation granting the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, menthol remains the sole permitted flavor in cigarettes.

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health, and the National Medical Association initiated the legal action. However, the Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration did not immediately provide any statements in response to the inquiries.

According to the FDA, banning menthol could potentially avert 324,000 to 654,000 smoking-related fatalities in the United States over a 40-year period.

Approximately 10.1 million Americans took up smoking due to menthol cigarettes between 1980 and 2018, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This alarming statistic also reveals that 378,000 individuals lost their lives prematurely because of this habit.

In 2021, menthol-flavored cigarettes accounted for 37% of total U.S. cigarette sales, marking the highest percentage since records started in 1963.

Approximately 81% of African American adults who smoke cigarettes prefer menthol flavors, while only 34% of Caucasian adults do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Analyst Philip Gorham from Morningstar recently estimated that menthol contributes to over 20% of the revenue for both Altria and British American Tobacco.

In a unified declaration, the individuals involved in the recent lawsuit on Tuesday argued that implementing a menthol ban would be advantageous for the Black community. They also accused the Biden administration of being misled by “disinformation and fear-mongering” tactics employed by the tobacco industry.

The White House anticipates a significant participation of African American voters to support Democratic candidate Joe Biden in his bid for re-election against his Republican rival, former President Donald Trump.

In June 2020, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the FDA concerning a menthol ban. This case was subsequently dismissed in June 2022, just five weeks following the FDA’s proposal to implement the ban.

The lawsuit involves the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, along with others, taking legal action against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among others, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case number assigned to this matter is 24-01992.

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