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Research Article Research Article

Majority of U.S. adults support banning menthol cigarettes, including many menthol smokers

New Truth Initiative® research shows most adults (56.4%) support a federal ban on menthol cigarettes, the last remaining flavored cigarette still sold in the U.S. that has long been marketed to Black Americans with predatory tobacco industry tactics.

Support was especially strong among African-Americans (60.5%) and other groups who have been targeted by the tobacco industry, including women (62.5%) and Hispanic/Latinos (69.3%). While nonsmokers showed more support for banning menthol cigarettes, at 64.8%, more than 1 in 4 current menthol smokers (28.5%) favored a ban, revealing an opportunity to further increase support among those who would be most impacted by a ban.

Nearly 9 in 10 African American smokers use menthol cigarettes, which are easier to smoke and harder to quit. The tobacco industry has aggressively targeted the Black community with tactics highlighted in the new truth® campaign Read Between the Lies, which features Black voices reading and reacting to real quotes from tobacco industry executives revealing the deliberate exploitation of the Black community. Massive tobacco industry lobbying efforts have also helped grant menthol repeated exemptions from legislation on flavored tobacco products.

The new study, published in Public Health Reports, comes as pressure mounts to ban menthol cigarettes, especially as COVID-19 highlights the severe health inequities facing communities of color.

The movement to ban menthol

An increasing number of local and state governments have passed restrictions on menthol tobacco product sales, including a recent ban passed in California, and several public health groups are suing the Food and Drug Administration for a federal ban. Widespread public support could aid sales restrictions at the local, state, and federal level.

Support for a ban spanned across political lines as well. Over half of respondents, regardless of political ideology, supported a menthol ban. Liberal respondents reported higher odds of support compared to conservative participants, but there was majority support (51.5%) for the policy even among more conservative individuals who may be less likely to support tobacco control policies.

Restricting menthol sales doesn’t cause catastrophic job and profit losses

The tobacco industry mounts aggressive opposition campaigns to menthol sales restrictions and often warns of severe economic losses for communities. A separate case study co-authored by Truth Initiative researchers, however, suggests that these concerns are overstated.

A case study of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, show that restricting menthol cigarette sales from convenience stores in the two cities would result in projected annual profit losses of about $6M for Minneapolis and $4M for Saint Paul – contrasting sharply with tobacco industry estimates of losses of at least six times greater. Also, the number of tobacco retailers in both cities remained largely the same as it was prior to the ban, suggesting economic stability. The Minnesota examples suggest that it is possible to successfully implement flavor regulations without an overwhelmingly negative economic impact.

Researchers measured policy support among a cross-sectional sample of 2,871 adults aged 18-64 from a nationally representative online panel from October to December 2018.