Will menthol cigarettes finally be tossed into the dustbin of history?

Happy Friday, readers.

With the last day of April comes our last day (for now) of coming to your inbox daily. A major thanks to my colleagues current and past who have helped me craft this newsletter over the past month: David Z. Morris, Erika Fry, and Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez. I’ll be taking the helm again going forward and we’ll be going back to a weekly missive. So see you again on Thursday May 6 and each Thursday thereafter.

Speaking of events that occur on Thursdays… Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) addressed one of the longest-standing issues in tobacco regulation: Banning menthol flavored nicotine products.

It’s been a long time coming. In 2009, former President Barack Obama signed sweeping anti-tobacco legislation into law. It banned wide swaths of flavored tobacco products which might appeal to kids. But it left the key question of whether or not to include menthol in the bans up to further review by the FDA.

Well, on Thursday, the Biden administration officially proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes under the auspices of that more than decades-long law. The question, as my colleague Nicole Goodkind notes, is whether or not the tobacco lobby will derail or delay that effort now just as it did back then.

“Altria, the tobacco-maker behind Marlboro that holds a 26% share of the menthol market in the U.S., said that a ban on menthol cigarettes would lead to an illegal, secondary market without FDA regulation,” Nicole writes. “We share the common goal of moving adult smokers from cigarettes to potentially less harmful alternatives, but prohibition does not work. Criminalizing menthol will lead to serious unintended consequences,” the company said in a statement.

Of course, unintended consequences can go many ways. Menthol tobacco products are particularly popular among Black Americans, who also suffer from some of the highest rates of lung cancer in the country, especially Black men. To assuage fears of criminalizing individuals who use menthol, the administration said it would only be focusing on going after manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

But a blow to the menthol market could hit tobacco giants where it really hurts, so expect a fight going forward.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee


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