On April 29, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proclaimed its ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars as a commitment to reduce addiction and youth experimentation, improve quitting among current smokers and address health disparities. Thanks in part to government regulations and public health programs the number of people smoking has declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 14 percent in 2019.
Still, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco use is associated with 1 in 5 deaths.
“Some studies project that this menthol ban will avert about 633,000 deaths, including about 237,000 deaths among African Americans,” said Eric Leas, PhD, assistant professor at Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at University of California San Diego, who has received funding from the FDA to study the effects of menthol on an individual’s ability to quit smoking.
“The ‘cooling’ sensation of menthol masks the harshness of tobacco making cigarettes more palatable to youth. This cooling sensation also allows deeper inhalation resulting in a greater absorption of nicotine per puff. This can accelerate biological dependence to nicotine. By taking menthol out of cigarettes we may not only prevent youth from trying tobacco, but we may also prevent those who do from smoking more cigarettes and getting more addicted.”
- Menthol is a naturally occurring chemical found in the oils of mint but it is also synthetically produced in labs. It was first added to tobacco in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, nearly 18.6 million current smokers use menthol cigarettes in this country.
- Marketing of menthol products is targeted towards African Americans, LGBTQ+ individuals and low-income communities. Approximately 85 percent of African Americans who smoke consume menthol cigarettes compared to 48 percent of Latinos, 41 percent of Asians and 30 percent of white smokers.
- The FDA reported menthol cigarette use declined among white youth but did not decrease among African American or Latino youth.
The California Smokers’ Helpline, operated by UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, offers counselors who are fluent in the six most commonly spoken languages in California. Smokers can call 1-800-NO-BUTTS.