The U.S. Must Save Black Lives by Banning Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes

The U.S. Must Save Black Lives by Banning Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes

STOP Welcomes New Lawsuit in the U.S. That Seeks Long-Overdue Ban on Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes, Used by Tobacco Companies To Addict Youth and Black Americans

(New York, June 17, 2020) – STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, issued the following statement applauding the lawsuit filed in the United States by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to compel regulatory action against menthol-flavored cigarettes.

“The lawsuit filed today is an action born out of inaction. The results have been catastrophic for America’s youth and Black Americans. The FDA’s failure to remove menthol-flavored cigarettes harms all Americans, but research shows that menthol products are used disproportionately by young and Black Americans, contributing to health inequalities. Their use must be addressed immediately.

More than 45,000 Black Americans die from tobacco-related diseases every year and more than three quarters of Black adults who smoke mostly use menthol cigarettes. According to the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, the deaths of 4,700 Black Americans could have been avoided by 2020 if menthols had been removed from the U.S. market 10 years ago. By 2050, over 66,000 tobacco-related deaths among this community could have been avoided.

It is unclear as to why The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which became law in 2009, banned all cigarette flavors except for menthol. The banned flavors accounted for less than 1% of the U.S. cigarette market while menthol-flavored cigarettes made up 28% of this market. The FDA’s committee concluded that “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.” Yet for more than a decade, no action has been taken.

Today, in addition to the majority of Black American adult smokers, more than half of American teenage smokers age 17 and younger use menthol cigarettes. Research has shown that tobacco companies manipulated menthol content to initiate new smokers and keep current smokers using their products. Research also reveals that the tobacco industry strategically marketed menthol products to Black Americans.

Tobacco companies have worked hard to derail or delay menthols bans in Brazil, Chile, Canada and the recently enacted legislation in the European Union. Their quest to keep menthols on the U.S. market has been largely successful, in part, due to the FDA’s inaction. Other factors include the tobacco industry’s history of donating funds to organizations serving Black people, with claims they are allies of Black causes and champions of social justice. This deception occurs while targeting Black Americans with these addictive and deadly products. Even now, tobacco industry allies are using the spotlight on race and health inequities in the U.S. as an argument to not ban a product that harms so many Black Americans.

The menthol flavor is another chapter in the tobacco industry’s history of using underhanded tactics to recruit customers to a deadly product and evade regulation that protects health. The industry continues to sell, market and challenge regulations on menthols despite the science showing how menthol helps people start smoking and stay addicted. The only thing the tobacco industry cares about is profit. The AATCLC-ASH lawsuit is a welcome step forward in our efforts to eliminate an addictive pathway paved by the tobacco industry in the U.S. and beyond.”

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and Vital Strategies. For more information, visit