WASHINGTON – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a menthol cigarette ban that could be announced next week when the agency also details how it will crack down on flavored e-cigarette sales, according to FDA officials cited by The New York Times.
Canada and the European Union have already banned menthol cigarettes (the EU’s ban goes into effect in 2020). Opponents of menthol cigarettes say the products are a major gateway to addiction, according to The Times.
“Menthol makes it seem less harsh, and also makes the body absorb more nicotine,” Lisa David, head of New York-based Public Health Solutions, said according to The Times. “That means it’s easier to start smoking and harder to quit.”
The potential proposal could take years to institute, but it would not be the first menthol ban in the U.S., San Francisco residents voted to uphold a ban on the sales of menthol tobacco products in June, reported CNBC.
FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has not addressed banning menthol cigarettes since news broke of the potential ban, but he did address the topic in an interview this fall, according to The Times.
“It was a mistake for the agency to back away on menthol,” Gottlieb said according to The Times.
The possibility of a prohibition on menthol cigarettes comes days after sources told The Times that the FDA will announce a proposed ban of in-store sales of many flavored e-cigarettes. The ban aims to keep Juuls and other products out of the hands of teenagers who are using the devices in “epidemic” proportions.
Juul announced Friday it was pulling some of its fruit and dessert flavors from stores in response to the possible FDA ban, reported CNBC.
The FDA will announce specifics of the new rules next week, said a senior agency official according to The Times. The plan will restrict convenience stores and other retail locations’ ability to sell flavored e-cigarettes except menthol and mint flavors, the same official said according to The Times.
“In order to close the on-ramp to e-cigarettes for kids, we have to put in place some speed bumps for adults,” Gottlieb said before news of the plan according to The Times.
E-cigarette makers argue that their products are not made to appeal to teens but to help adult smokers transition away from traditional cigarettes. However, Gottlieb declared teen vaping an “epidemic” in September, reported NBC News. Critics of e-cigarettes claim teens start vaping mainly because of the variety of flavors like creme brulee, mango and even mimosa.
The plan could affect giant tobacco company Juul, which has more than two-thirds of the U.S. e-cig market, as well as other tobacco companies including RJR, Imperial and Altria, reported WaPo.
A 60-day period put in place by Gottlieb for those four companies to provide evidence they could keep their products out of the hands of teens expires this weekend, according to The Times.
The FDA also anticipates mandating age-verification measures for individuals trying to buy e-cigarette flavor pods as well, reported WaPo. Even raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 is on the table, reported The Times.
The FDA even seized documents from Juul’s San Francisco headquarters to look for evidence the company markets to teens on Sept. 29, reported CBS News.
The FDA fines some retailers that sell e-cigarette products and accessories to minors, according to The Times. The FDA even launched a “blitz” against 40 retailers to crack down on illicit sales in April.
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