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Truth Initiative CEO calls for FDA to ban menthol

Truth Initiative® CEO and President Robin Koval called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban menthol cigarettes at a Tuesday press conference.  

“It’s a national tragedy when you consider the overwhelming evidence against menthol, combined with the terrible inequities in its toll on the African-American community and other vulnerable populations – especially our youth,” Koval said. “The continued pass and exemptions given to menthol tobacco and other flavors present one of the greatest barriers to ending our national tobacco epidemic.”

Koval’s comments came at a national press conference, in partnership with the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC). In August, Truth Initiative, the AATCLC and other allies joined forces to criticize the FDA’s new tobacco deeming regulations, which went into effect on August 8 and did not address menthols, in an open letter to President Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Reynolds American Inc. had recently rolled out a marketing strategy to distribute coupons at concerts and bars to target young adult smokers with $1 per pack Newport cigarettes, a deep discount for cigarettes the Journal reported would normally cost seven times more. According to the Journal, the “minty, menthol style has gained popularity among millennials, who have shown a preference for more flavorful options.”


88.5 percent of African-American smokers aged 12 years and older use menthol cigarettes

Nearly 9 in 10 African-American smokers (88.5%) aged 12 years and older use menthol cigarettes and 70 percent of all current youth tobacco users have used a flavored product in the last 30 days.

In 2013, the FDA reported that menthol cigarettes are associated with increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction and decreased success in quitting smoking.

These findings suggest that menthol cigarettes are slowing the progress in tobacco control. Tobacco use prevalence among adults and youth has declined over the past decade, but the data for menthol use show a different trend.  

Non-menthol cigarette use declined in all age groups from 2004-2010. However, use of menthol cigarettes increased among young adults over this period: 14 percent of young adults smoked menthol cigarettes in 2004, compared to 16.3 percent in 2010.

Discussing the blight of mentholated tobacco products, Koval pointed out work that Truth Initiative is doing to reach out to communities most likely to use tobacco, including menthol products, specifically highlighting the organization’s focus on helping Historically Black Colleges and Universities adopt tobacco-free campus policies.

But with menthol making up nearly a third of the U.S. cigarette market, she said, more needs to be done.

“We need the Administration and the FDA to do more to combat the dangers of menthol cigarettes,” Koval said. “We can, and we must, change direction and make a life-saving difference. Or - as we like to say at Truth Initiative - to “Finish It.”