FDA Announces Proposed Ban on Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars, Restrictions on Flavored E-Cigarettes

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On November 15th, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the agency’s next steps in youth tobacco prevention. This includes:

  • Banning menthol cigarettes: The FDA will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to ban menthol in cigarettes and any other combustible tobacco product. This is long overdue and a critical step towards reducing initiation, making it easier for people who smoke to quit, and countering the tobacco industry’s targeting of African-American communities with menthol products. Read more about menthol tobacco products here
  • Banning flavored cigars: Commissioner Gottlieb announced that the agency intends to issue a product standard that would ban flavors in all cigars. This will address the sale of cheap, flavored cigars, which are as deadly as cigarettes and appealing to youth. Read more about flavored tobacco products, including cigars.
  • Restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes: Under the FDA’s new plan, the sale of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) products, including e-liquids, cartridge-based systems and cig-a-likes in any flavor other than tobacco, mint or menthol, will only be allowed in age-restricted (18+) retail locations. The FDA argues that mint and menthol flavors are more popular among adults and may help them transition away from combustible tobacco products. However, new data from the CDC shows a 78% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students from 2017-2018, and that 51.2% high school students who use e-cigarettes also use mint or menthol flavors. While the FDA’s new proposed plan restricts where flavored e-cigarettes can be sold, it still allows e-cigarette products to stay on the market without review by the FDA until August 2022. Read more about e-cigarettes at the point of sale
  • Requiring “heightened” age verification for online e-cigarette sales: The FDA will require that online sales of e-cigarettes include “heightened practices for age verification.” The FDA has not outlined was this should look like yet, though the e-cigarette company Juul has begun to implement new standards of their own for online age verification and preventing online sales to youth, while also voluntarily ending the sale of flavors other than tobacco, mint, and menthol from all brick-and-mortar US stores (for now). FDA Commissioner Gottlieb is hoping that other companies will take similar voluntary action within the next 90 days. 
  • As part of the FDA’s ongoing Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, the agency will also pursue the removal of ENDS products that are marketed to children or appealing to youth. 

These are exciting steps in youth tobacco use prevention, in curtailing the youth e-cigarette “epidemic,” and in working towards reducing tobacco-related health disparities. However, we know rule-making at the federal level often takes a long time. We also know that the tobacco industry is litigious, and given the impact that some of these steps (particularly the ban on menthol) could have on reducing smoking, we expect them to challenge these rules and fight to drag the process out for even longer. That means that local- and state-level action on menthol and other flavored products is still important and urgent. Additionally, the new proposed policies do not address flavors in any form of smokeless tobacco or hookah.  State and local jurisdictions also have the opportunity to go beyond the measures proposed by the FDA, even restricting the sale of all types of flavored tobacco products comprehensively. Learn more about the action cities and counties around the country have taken action so far.

Read FDA Commission Gottlieb’s full statement announcing the agency’s proposed new steps.

Read statements from other public health and tobacco control groups: