“Vape products and cigarettes can harm adolescent brain development. Nicotine is highly addictive and can prime young brains for addition to other drugs, such as opioids or meth.”
Alert readers may have seen this warning in a recent Daily News advertisement, along with the alarming fact from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that current use of tobacco and vape products in the Northeast Nebraska Region 4 area is above the Nebraska average. In this region, more than 17% of 12th graders smoke cigarettes regularly, and nearly 34% vape regularly.
The warning also alerted the public that young people are especially attracted to flavored liquids that release a sweet or minty scent. The same could be said about menthol cigarettes.
Studies have shown that close to half of all kids who smoke begin with menthol cigarettes. From 1980 to 2018, menthol encouraged an extra 10.1 million Americans to become smokers and was responsible for 378,000 extra premature deaths and a total of 3 million life-years lost, a recent study found.
Congress banned most cigarette flavors — candy, fruit, chocolate and others — in 2009, but menthol, the most popular one, was left for the Food and Drug Administration to deal with. Even though the FDA announced in April that the agency would move to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within a year, that doesn’t go far enough.
At least eight states are considering legislation this year that would ban sales of all flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, vaping products and smokeless tobacco such as snuff or chew. The FDA should follow the lead of these states.
While menthols account for a little more than one-third of the total cigarette market, 85% of Black smokers smoke them. While a ban might create a new point of friction between African Americans and law enforcement, it’s also possible, however, that a menthol ban would persuade more African American smokers to quit. After menthol cigarettes were banned in much of Canada, daily menthol smokers began quitting at almost twice the rate of other smokers.
What’s certain is that allowing menthol cigarettes to remain on the market will continue to spur heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer and other health problems that disproportionately afflict Black Americans.
The FDA should protect the lives of all Americans by banning menthol from all forms of tobacco use, not just cigarettes and cigars.