Home General Groups Sue FDA Over Delay in Ban on Menthol Tobacco Products

Groups Sue FDA Over Delay in Ban on Menthol Tobacco Products

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A picture of someone smoking
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A coalition of civil rights and medical organizations is suing the US Food and Drug Administration for missing its deadline to ban menthol cigarettes. Dr. Yolanda Lawson, the president of the National Medical Association, which represents Black physicians, expressed that it’s messed up when profits are prioritized over people’s well-being. 

He shared this sentiment during a news conference on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. The groups are asking for people to be put first, and the ban should take place with immediate effect.

Groups Express Dissatisfaction Over Ban Delay

Carol McGruder, a founding African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council member, made a point at the news conference. She said that the tobacco industry knows that the delay in the menthol cigarette ban will get more people hooked. 

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 “The industry knows that every year of delay is another year where they have the opportunity to addict another batch of our people,” Carol McGruder said. The FDA had promised that banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars was a top priority.

They even sent the final rule to the White House for approval. However, because of lobbying from different groups, the deadline passed from last year to March. “There’s no scientific or legal reason for this, and the FDA themselves have illustrated that they believe that this is important,” said Kelsey Romeo-Stuppy, managing attorney for Action on Smoking and Health. 

“So the delay seems to be for a political reason.” Romeo-Stuppy added, “It’s almost unconscionable that it’s taken two lawsuits from nongovernmental organizations to require a public health policy that the FDA already agrees is supported by facts and law.” 

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Romeo-Stuppy Reveals Menthol Cigarettes Have Killed About 40,000 Americans Since 2020

In 2009, all flavors of cigarettes were banned except menthol. The FDA has been considering banning menthol for over a decade. Finally, in April 2022, they took a big step by announcing a proposed product standard. 

They believe it could make a difference in reducing disease, death, and even youth experimentation with smoking. According to Romeo-Stuppy, menthol cigarettes have caused the deaths of around 40,000 Americans since the organizations started the lawsuit in 2020. 

In 2013, the Public Health Law Center asked the FDA to ban menthol. The groups dismissed the lawsuit when the FDA finally decided to ban it.

The Groups Highlighted the Benefits of the Ban on Menthol Tobacco

The organizations behind the lawsuit say that a ban on menthol could be a real game-changer. A recent study found that in over 20 years, it could lower healthcare costs for all adult smokers by $1.62 billion. 

Furthermore, it could also save up to 654,000 lives in the US within 40 years. That includes around 255,000 members of the Black community. They also said that the benefits of a menthol ban would be huge, especially for the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.

It’s no secret that tobacco companies have been explicitly targeting these communities with menthol marketing for years. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it. Their tactics have been beneficial, widening the health disparities.

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Study Reveals Black Americans Die at a Higher Rate Due to Intake of Menthol Tobacco

A 2020 study showed that while 43% of all adult smokers smoked menthols, more than 83% of Black smokers did. Only about 30% of White smokers choose menthols. The study also revealed that black Americans are unfortunately dying at way higher rates from smoking-related illnesses compared to White Americans. 

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In total, they make up only 12% of the US population, but they account for 41% of smoking-related premature deaths. Between 1980 and 2018, 50% of life-years lost due to menthol tobacco product use were from the Black community.

Within five years, the elimination of menthol cigarettes could close the gap in lung cancer deaths, the study found. The CDC says that over half of kids who smoke prefer menthol cigarettes. Research found that kids who start with menthols are more likely to become regular smokers instead of just occasional ones.

A recent study showed that a quarter of smokers quit altogether within a year or two of a menthol ban in other countries and some US municipalities. “We already know that tobacco is a critical public health issue that remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease,” Dr. Valerie Yerger of the AATC Leadership Council said at the news conference.

“We need to keep beating the drum about how Black Americans, in particular, bear the greatest burden, and it doesn’t even have to be that way.” Dr. Valerie Yerger added, “The FDA, President Biden, and his White House administration are also aware of the evidence.”

“It is long past time for them to get inoculated against whatever is keeping them from removing these deadly products from the US marketplace,” Dr. Yerger concluded.

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The Groups Accused the Biden Administration of Inaction Regarding the Ban on Menthol Tobacco

Some groups are pointing out the irony of the Biden administration’s proclamation of April as National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which is not part of the lawsuit, also noted the irony.

They say it would be tough to achieve the Cancer Moonshot’s goal of ending cancer as we know it without a menthol ban. They’re connecting the dots, saying that if we want to make some serious progress in the fight against cancer, addressing the menthol issue could be a big step forward.

“The administration continues to miss the opportunity to leave a significant, lasting public health legacy, save lives, and reach their Cancer Moonshot goals by not finalizing these rules,” Dr. Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Action Network, said in a news release.

The American Lung Association was not part of the lawsuit but expressed its support.

“The FDA’s findings show that menthol cigarettes are not appropriate for the protection of public health,” association President and CEO Harold Wimmer said in a news release Tuesday. “It is frustrating that the continued delay of the menthol rules compelled our partners to go back to court.”

According to the group’s attorney, Christopher Leung, the FDA will likely have around two months to respond to the lawsuit in court. The White House is yet to respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

“We’re asking President Biden and the administration to protect us,” McGruder said on Tuesday. “We know that this final rule is not the end. It is the beginning of a long process to begin to repair the damage done to our community.”

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