California leads 21 state coalition demanding federal ban of menthol cigarettes

(The Center Square) – California attorney General Rob Bonta led a 21-state coalition demanding that the Biden administration ban menthol cigarettes, claiming they are disproportionately consumed by black smokers, LGBTQ smokers and smokers with mental health problems.

“For far too long, tobacco companies have intentionally targeted specific communities across this nation, particularly communities of color, which has contributed to significant health disparities and inequities,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The time to act is now. I urge the Biden Administration to finally halt the sale of these flavored tobacco products, which will lay the groundwork to reverse decades of disparities in tobacco use and save lives.” 

The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing a Food and Drug Administration rule proposed in 2022 that would ban menthol as a flavoring agent in tobacco. Through this rule, the FDA aims to “reduce the appeal of cigarettes, particularly to youth and young adults, and thereby decrease the likelihood that nonusers who would otherwise experiment with menthol cigarettes would progress to regular smoking” and “improve the health and reduce the mortality risk of current menthol cigarette smokers by decreasing cigarette consumption and increasing the likelihood of cessation.” 

Bonta claims “menthol cigarette use is also disproportionately high among LGBTQ+ smokers, smokers with mental health problems, and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations,” and that “this flavoring remains a primary reason as to why young people initiate and become addicted to smoking.” 

However, some experts say these concerns are unfounded given that studies focusing on menthol use rates in states and levels of youth smoking fail to draw a correlation between the two.

“Any consideration of menthol prohibition should be made in the context of extremely low youth use of the product, the lack of association between menthol use rates in states and youth smoking, the costs of enforcing prohibition, especially for minority communities, and other less costly ways of reducing smoking, such as increasing the availability of safer nicotine alternatives like e-cigarettes and traditional smoking cessation services,” wrote Reason Foundation policy experts Guy Bentley and Jacob James Rich in an analysis. 

In 2020, the FDA banned all vape flavors for reusable vapes other than menthol and tobacco, but this rule did not apply to disposable vapes such as those from the popular Elf Bar brand. Even though Congress closed this loophole and required vape companies such as Elf Bar to file FDA applications, unlicensed products have continued to be illegally imported and sold nationwide.

The California-led coalition includes Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia.