FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

Menthol-flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars would be banned in the U.S. under a new plan unveiled Thursday by federal health officials.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it will issue a proposal “within the next year” to ban menthol in cigarettes and ban all flavors, including menthol, in cigars.

The ban has long been sought by public health advocacy groups, and the administration was facing a Thursday deadline to respond to a lawsuit filed by antismoking and public health groups intended to force the FDA into action.

“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Timing: On a call with reporters, officials were vague about when they might publish a proposal, because the process can be time consuming. The last time the federal government proposed banning menthol cigarettes, in 2013, it received more than 174,000 public comments. The lawsuit is still ongoing though, and a judge may order them to set a deadline.

Significance: The move is one of the most aggressive actions against tobacco the FDA has taken since it gained regulatory authority in 2009. Public health and civil rights groups have long argued Black Americans have been disproportionately harmed by menthol cigarettes, as the tobacco industry deliberately targeted Black communities for decades.

Backstory: Congress banned flavored cigarettes as part of the 2009 law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, but a loophole negotiated by industry lobbyists exempted menthol. Instead, lawmakers at the time directed the FDA to determine whether continued sale of menthol cigarettes was “appropriate for public health.”