Majority of U.S. adults support the removal of menthol cigarettes, including many menthol smokers
CDC data collected in 2021 shows that most U.S. adults (62.3%) support policies to eliminate 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. In addition, 57.3% of survey participants supported a policy prohibiting the sale of all tobacco products.
As of 2020, 81% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, which are easier to smoke and harder to quit. The tobacco industry has aggressively targeted the Black community with tactics including placing more advertising in predominantly Black neighborhoods and in publications that are popular with Black audiences, appropriating culture in marketing, and sponsoring events such as jazz and hip-hop festivals. Massive tobacco industry lobbying efforts have also helped grant menthol repeated exemptions from legislation on flavored tobacco products.
As of October 2023, the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rules to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market have been finalized and sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, marking a momentous step toward a major public health victory. This development has been long-awaited since the FDA announced the proposal in April 2021.
The movement to eliminate menthol
As of June 30, 2023, 395 jurisdictions and 3 Native American tribes have placed some type of restriction on the sale of flavored tobacco products, and of those, 124 have fully comprehensive policies that prohibit sales of all types of flavors across all products, including menthol/mint/wintergreen tobacco products that are sometimes exempted from flavor policies, according to Truth Initiative’s report on local restrictions on flavored tobacco.
Support for these policies comes at a significant time, with flavors playing a major role in enticing youth and young adults to try and use tobacco products. According to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 40.4% of students who currently smoked cigarettes reported using menthol cigarettes, and nearly 9 in 10 youth (grades 6-12) who reported using tobacco products in 2023 used flavored varieties.
With the FDA proposal to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars currently in review with the White House Office of Management and Budget, we may soon be on the brink of a historic decision that is likely to positively affect many of the groups most affected by tobacco industry targeting.
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, showed 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 removal of menthol products, 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.
This article was originally published on November 10, 2020.