The Food and Drug Administration says it has found a way to enforce a ban on menthol cigarettes without targeting Black smokers themselves.
The FDA, which regulates tobacco products, is close to banning menthols, which contain flavoring and other ingredients which make them more addictive than other cigarettes. Menthols are the predominant variety used by Black smokers and tobacco companies market them overwhelmingly to Black consumers. They account for a reported one-third of the $80 billion tobacco industry.
That makes them a clear public health danger in a community where lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases also occur at higher rates than in the broader population. But with the ban coming, some Black legislators, nonprofit organizations and activists–including many that quietly receive funding from companies that make menthols and other tobacco products–have argued that a ban might subject Black smokers to unnecessary and potentially dangerous interactions with law enforcement.
But in moving forward with the ban, the FDA says its new rules won’t criminalize individuals who possess newly-banned menthol cigarettes.
“Importantly, the FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumers for possession or use of menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars ,” the agency said in a press release. “If these proposed rules are finalized and implemented, FDA enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers who manufacture, distribute, or sell such products within the U.S. that are not in compliance with applicable requirements. These proposed regulations do not include a prohibition on individual consumer possession or use.”
The release went on to note that state and local law enforcement aren’t charged with enforcing FDA regulations broadly.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a ban on menthol cigarettes could help avoid between 92,000 and 238,000 smoking deaths among African-Americans over 40 years.