WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Since 2009, the Tobacco Control Act has prohibited ‘characterizing flavors’ in cigarettes — except for menthol. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced plans to ban the lone remaining flavored cigarette.
The decision to ban menthols came at the end of April, hoping to curb the appeal of smoking to youths and to help improve quitting overall. Menthol cigarettes also disproportionality affect Black smokers, according to the FDA.
“There are 18.6 million smokers of menthol cigarettes in the U.S., according to FDA. Out of Black smokers, 85% smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 30% of white smokers. This ban could lead 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans, in the first year and a half. This means that approximately 633,000 deaths would be averted, including about 237,000 deaths for African Americans,” according to Novant Health.
Dr. Phillip Brown is the system chief community impact officer for Novant Health’s coastal market, he says the proposed ban on menthols could save lives nationally, and locally.
“Locally, we do see an incredibly disproportionate impact on African Americans when it comes to smoking-related illnesses like stroke,” he said.
Brown said smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and banning menthols could be a step toward solving that problem.
“Menthol has been marketed to the African American population, and while the African American population tends to smoke less than either whites or Hispanics, their outcomes with smoking-related diseases is much, much worse,” Brown said.
But it’s not just the Black communities impacted by flavored cigarettes, younger people are often the targets of marketing for menthol cigarettes as well.
“Menthols or any kind of flavors, whether you talk about tobacco that is smoked or vaping, those basically are targeted toward young people to get them started,” Brown said.
Of course, anytime the government wants to tell people what they can, or can’t do, there is going to be political debate, but for Brown, his focus is on saving lives and preventing illnesses that are avoidable. While most people know that smoking causes cancer, there are a number of other ailments that can be prevented including stroke, diabetes, vascular disease, and heart disease.
“I can tell you as a vascular surgeon, so much of the heartbreaking medical conditions that I had to deal with over those years was related to tobacco, so I’m relatively unconcerned with the politics of it. I think from a health standpoint anything we can do to eliminate that risk is really important,” he said.
And as to the effectiveness of such a ban, Brown said he is confident in such measures.
“I think there is a huge potential that this kind of ban works,” he said.