The recent announcement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin the process of banning all menthol flavoring in cigarettes and cigars is a huge step in reducing youth and young adult tobacco addiction, addressing health equity, and improving oral health and overall health outcomes. This announcement ensures that the FDA’s next steps will be establishing rules and an opportunity for public comment on the ban of menthol flavoring in cigarettes and all flavoring in cigars within the next year.
Although there has been a crackdown on flavoring of tobacco products in recent years, menthol is the last allowable flavor for cigarettes and continues to contribute to youth use and inequitable outcomes for minority and low income populations. The use of menthol flavoring in tobacco products numbs the mouth and throat while using, making it a more enjoyable experience by reducing irritation. Menthol flavoring in cigarettes and cigars makes it easier for youth to start smoking, easier to become addicted, and harder to quit. As youth begin using and becoming addicted to tobacco products their overall health, including oral health, is negatively affected. Those who use tobacco products are more likely to experience oral health concerns including dry mouth, gum disease, and oral cancer as well as decreased blood flow to the gums, which is associated with nicotine use.
In addition to youth being targeted by menthol flavoring in tobacco products, the tobacco industry has historically used menthol flavoring to appeal to African American communities, especially Black youth. This targeted marketing over several decades has led to menthol flavored tobacco products being the most popular choice among African Americans, making it harder to quit. This marketing is also responsible for inequitable health outcomes among African Americans who are more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases.
As other flavors have been banned within the tobacco industry, popular tobacco products have shifted in recent years to cheap, flavored cigars. The 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that flavored cigars are the most popular tobacco product for African American high school students and the second most popular among all high school students, behind e-cigarettes. The inclusion of all flavored cigars in the FDA announcement will continue to help fight the use of tobacco products among teens.
This life-saving step by the FDA will reduce the number of youth who begin using tobacco products and become addicted, negatively impacting their oral and overall health, and lead to more equitable health outcomes for African Americans and other marginalized populations.