FDA Menthol Ban: Scientific Report Suggests That Bans on Cigarettes Work

When Canadian provinces banned menthols, there was no evidence of illicit surges.

After seemingly positive results in Canada, the United States may also ban menthol cigarettes soon, and scientific study on menthols shows the results would make for a healthier populace.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb plans to pursue a ban on menthol cigarettes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday afternoon, citing senior agency officials.

Menthol-flavored cigarettes were banned north of the border in waves across Canadian provinces in recent years, and while researchers found that sales of menthol products continued after the ban on cigarettes, there was no ban backlash, or “surge,” in illicit cigarette use after the menthol ban, according to a report published last month in Tobacco Journal.

“The number of seized illicit cigarettes declined significantly” after the ban, writes author Michal Stoklosa.

So while it’s been scientifically proven that menthol-flavored cigarettes are worse for a person’s health, newer data seems to settle a more contentious, modern issue: Cigarette bans are shown to work.

“Contrary to the tobacco industry’s assertions, there was no surge in illicit cigarettes after the 2015 ban on menthol cigarette sales in Nova Scotia,” writes Stoklosa. “Credible, industry-independent evidence on illicit cigarette trade is desperately needed to support the implementation of tobacco control policies.”

Teens are Scientifically Proven to Prefer Menthols

Menthol cigarettes have long been linked to higher rates of smoking in teenagers. A third of high school smokers in Canada’s Youth Smoking Survey smoked menthols, before the ban took effect in various provinces there.

A different study in 2013 suggested that menthols were a driver of youth smoking. “Our findings indicate that youth are heavy consumers of mentholated cigarettes, and that overall menthol cigarette smoking has either remained constant or increased in all three age groups we studied, while non-menthol smoking has decreased,” said Gary Giovino, Ph.D., professor at the University at Buffalo who led the research in that study.

If a menthol ban is passed in the United States, it could take more than a year for it to take effect and another year after that for it to be enforced, the Journal reports.

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Stateside, the FDA found in 2013 (the PDF has been removed but here’s a news article about it) than menthol-flavored cigarettes are a bigger health risk that regular cigarettes.

Crucially, the FDA’s 2013 scientific review of menthols asked for public comment on what it called “potential regulation” of menthol cigarettes, seemingly paving a path toward the FDA news on Friday.

It has been a rough week for big tobacco. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the FDA will plan on banning most flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores and gas stations and that it would strengthen age-verification for online purchases, but did not cite sources for its story.

However, the end isn’t over for inventive tobacco companies, despite data that shows cigarette bans seem to work and people attempt quitting after they are enacted.

“Tobacco companies are notorious for exploiting loopholes and violating the spirit of laws aimed at protecting the public’s health and we have documented yet another example,” said study Joanna E. Cohen, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School and director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control. “Menthol masks the harshness of smoke, and the evidence shows that menthol cigarettes have an adverse impact on public health.”

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