What you need to know about menthol cigarettes, the FDA’s proposed ban, and No Menthol Sunday - a national day of advocacy
In April, the FDA announced a proposal to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and cigars. Currently, the FDA prohibits the use of flavors in cigarettes, except for menthol – a measure that went into place in 2009.
Menthol is a flavoring derived from peppermint that’s added to cigarettes to make the smoke less harsh and more tolerable. There is evidence showing that menthol makes it easier to initiate the use of cigarettes and more difficult to quit smoking. This is partially because menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on the brain, increasing the addictiveness of cigarettes.
Today, about 38% of all smokers use menthol cigarettes, including 85% of all African American smokers and 50% of smokers under the age of 25, according to the CDC.
“A ban on the use of menthol would almost certainly reduce smoking and the harms related to smoking in the US, with the largest positive impacts on the health of African Americans and young people,” explains Dr. James Davis, Medical Director of the Duke Smoking Cessation Program.
It is no coincidence that the use of menthol cigarettes disproportionally effects Black Americans. Tobacco companies have historically targeted African Americans in their marketing of menthol cigarettes with culturally tailored messages.
“The insidiousness of how [menthol] is marketed to the African American community just blows my mind,” said Sterling Fulton, Director of Evaluation for the Center for Black Health and Equity (CBHE). “Everywhere you turn you see an ad or a sign.”
Fulton is the lead author of CBHE’s recently released Health Justice in Tobacco Control Guide, which explores the complicated relationship between tobacco and Black Americans. One way the CBHE is working to address the health disparities created by tobacco use is by advocating for a ban on all menthol tobacco products.
“If menthol was eliminated as an ingredient in cigarettes, approximately 340,000 deaths could have been and could be prevented between 2011 and 2050, of which a third of this population consists of African Americans.” - Health Justice in Tobacco Control Guide
No Menthol Sunday, held this year on May 15, is the CBHE’s annual day of advocacy aimed to engage faith communities on the harms of menthol and tobacco addiction, raising awareness for this important issue impacting Black health. Check out the CBHE's toolkit to see how you can get involved.
The FDA’s proposition on banning menthol in cigarettes and cigars will be debated over the next few months, including public listening sessions June 13 and 15. If the ban is approved, it would likely take a year or more to go into effect. The CBHE has a page where you can submit comments in support of the menthol ban.
To learn more about how to approach patients using menthol tobacco products
and addressing health disparities related to tobacco use,
About the Author
Rachael Joyner is a family nurse practitioner with the Duke Smoking Cessation Program. She holds a National Certificate in Tobacco Treatment Practice and received her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of Florida. She loves working collaboratively with patients to help them become tobacco free.