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In 2009, Congress enacted a law that banned flavored cigarettes except menthol. This law allowed the sale to adults of all other flavored tobacco products but gave FDA the authority to restrict flavors in the future. FDA can restrict flavors if it concludes based on the science that it would be good for public health. FDA has to make sure a ban won’t lead to a black market that causes more overall harm than good. FDA also has to consider how flavors can help adults smokers switch to less harmful tobacco products. Citizens for Tobacco Rights believes FDA is best positioned to make these decisions.
In the meantime, many state and local governments are proposing to bypass FDA and adopt legislative bans on adults buying flavored tobacco products. We understand why states and localities are concerned about this issue – they believe flavors are part of the reason youth are attracted to tobacco products.
We believe the best answer for reducing youth tobacco use is enforcing the enacted federal minimum age of 21. Data shows that youth under 18 get tobacco products primarily through social sources, including peers in high school who previously were of the legal age of 18. With a minimum age of 21, almost no high school student should be able to purchase tobacco products legally.
When states or localities ban flavors for adults, they could be making matters worse. There is already a large black market in tobacco products, mainly because taxes are so high. Bans that prohibit adults 21 and older from buying the products they want will just lead to an even larger black market, where the products are made by bootleggers. That is not good for public health.
Menthol has a long history of use in a wide range of consumer products, including cigarettes. Menthol is a well-established flavor preference that a significant percentage of adult smokers have used for decades and continue to use today. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently examining the use of menthol in cigarettes. Given the regulatory process established by Congress for evaluating menthol in cigarettes, state and local governments should allow the FDA time to complete its review of the science and evidence, before they consider any bans on menthol cigarettes.
A menthol ban would also result in serious adverse and unintended consequences, such as the creation of a black market for menthol cigarettes. The development of illicit trade channels could undo gains in preventing underage access to tobacco products.
Citizen for Tobacco Rights is here to help adult smokers and dippers stay informed about tobacco issues important to them and learn how to effectively engage in the political process. As always, we will continue to keep you updated about the potential risk of flavor bans when they arise.