Public health experts praise FDA plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

NOW: Public health experts praise FDA plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – The Food and Drug Administration has released a plan to ban sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, a move that public health experts are praising.

Menthol cigarettes are an equity issue the FDA has been considering for more than a decade and health officials say it's long overdue.

“It’s taken them almost 13 years, but boy is it an important step,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, director, UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

Dr. Fiore said menthol cigarettes are a gateway to smoking among kids and for years have been heavily marketed to Black people, resulting in devastating health consequences.

“In many ways it's been a health injustice that we've allowed a product to be marketed to one segment of our population and as a result more of them are dying,” he said.

FDA officials estimate the ban could prevent 630,000 smoking deaths over the next 40 years, more than a third of those among Black people. African American men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Menthol is added to cigarettes to make smoking less harsh, which can also make the experience more appealing. The cigarettes offer a cooling sensation in the throat and make up about $80 billion in sales in the U.S.

Many tobacco shops could be impacted by the ban. CBS 58 spoke to many tobacco owners who didn’t want to go on camera, but expressed their frustrations at how they feel the FDA is targeting their industry.

The Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors said some convenience stores could lose 30% of their cigarette revenue, which could force some to close.

Some smokers who are trying to quit believe it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s a hard addiction but I don’t think it needs to be out there,” said Aryana Leone of Madison. “I'm one for self-medicating if you need help, but cigarettes are detrimental.”

Some longtime smokers oppose the ban because they don’t like traditional flavored cigarettes.

“I’m not happy about it,” said Alyssa Smith of Madison.

The menthol ban is expected to take at least a year to go into effect, but tobacco companies are likely to challenge the rule in court.

The ban does not apply to e-cigarettes.

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