Yesterday the Biden administration announced that it will delay issuing the rules to eliminate menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars until March 2024 at the earliest. 

Nearly two years ago, the FDA announced a proposed rule to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, as well as prohibit menthol and all other characterizing flavors in cigars. The FDA has studied prohibiting menthol through policy change for more than 12 years. The policy is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence, and it will save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Menthol makes tobacco products easier to start and harder to quit. Tobacco companies have targeted its marketing to African Americans and other marginalized groups across the country for decades, contributing to disparities in tobacco product use and subsequent harm. Recent research has found that between 1980 and 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 10.1 million extra smokers, 3 million life years lost, and 378,000 premature deaths. With the tobacco industry’s relentless targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes to the African American community, a disproportionate amount of the harm from menthol has fallen on African Americans. While 12% of the US population is African American, African Americans account for 41% of the premature deaths and 50% of the life-years lost during this same time period.

The latest delay in action is unacceptable and prolongs the 45,000 Black lives lost to tobacco-related illness each year. Counter Tools urges the Office of Information and Management Affairs (OIRA) to complete its review of the Tobacco Product Standard for Menthol in Cigarettes (menthol cigarette rule) and to allow it to be finalized without delay. Prohibiting menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes will reduce youth smoking, save lives, and advance health equity.