Activists pushing FDA for national menthol cigarette ban

At Mimi II’s News in Dedham Square, a door sign makes clear you won’t find any flavored tobacco products for sale -- and that includes menthol cigarettes.

Almost three years ago, Massachusetts banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, along with all other flavored tobacco products. Since then, only one other state, California, has followed suit.

But in April 2021, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced plans to put in a national ban on menthol cigarettes. The agency has yet to make that ruling final -- and that’s frustrating some anti-tobacco activists.

“They’re stalled because of all the interference we have on the federal level,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “We need to permanently dismantle this structure that allows these corporations to continue to addict and kill our people.”

And those especially at risk of death from menthol cigarettes: Black Americans, who have an almost cultural attachment to such brands as Kool and Salem. Filmmaker Lincoln Mondy said that affinity is no accident.

“They (the tobacco companies) had a very calculated plan, an intentional plan, to target the black community with menthol,” said Mondy, who documented that process in his film, ‘Black Lives, Black Lungs.’ “Menthol was seen as a lower product, a cheaper product -- so they didn’t want to sort of advertise it to the more affluent communities.”

Mondy draws much of the information in his film, he said, from internal Big Tobacco documents made available because of past litigation.

“Through this lawsuit we got their internal e-mails, their memos, their reports,” Mondy said. “They also knew that menthol was more addictive... that the flavor encouraged addiction.”

There’s no doubt black smokers prefer mentholated cigarettes. The CDC reports that as of 2019, 85% of black smokers smoked menthol brands. And that’s likely having a significant effect on health. The American Cancer Society reports that among black men and women who die of cancer, the leading cause is cancer of the lungs.

McGruder hopes the FDA will finalize the menthol cigarette ban next summer.

Boston 25 News contacted the FDA to see where the ban stands, but did not receive a reply.

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