The Biden administration’s historic American proposal still needs to be finalized and could take years to implement.
The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued a long-awaited proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, a major victory for anti-smoking advocates but one that could face strong opposition from Big Tobacco.
The landmark proposal from the administration of US President Joe Biden, which comes a year after the agency announced the plan, has yet to be finalized and could take years to implement.
For decades, menthol cigarettes have been in the crosshairs of anti-smoking groups who have argued that they contribute to disproportionate health burdens in black communities and play a role in luring young people to smoke.
Banned in many states including California and Massachusetts, menthol cigarettes account for more than a third of the industry’s overall market share in the US, even as overall smoking rates have declined in the country.
“Today is a great victory for fairness, justice and public health,” Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the largest civil rights organization in the United States, said in a statement.
There were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers age 12 and older in the country in 2019, with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults and African-Americans and other racial and ethnic groups, the agency said.
The US agency said modeling studies have estimated a 15 percent reduction in smoking within 40 years if menthol cigarettes were banned.
The public can submit comments until July 5 from May 5, and the agency will decide whether to issue a final decision after reviewing them.
Reduction, not prohibition
Shares of Altria Group Inc, Imperial Brands Plc and British America Tobacco Plc (BAT) were mixed in afternoon trading.
“We believe that harm reduction, not prohibition, is the best way forward,” Altria said, adding that taking these products out of the legal market will push them into criminal and unregulated markets.
The American Civil Liberties Union and some other groups have also opposed the move, raising concerns that a ban will disproportionately affect Black and Latino communities.
While Jefferies expects a ban to occur, the brokerage doesn’t expect it to take place until 2026 at the earliest. He added that BAT can withstand the shock even though more than 30 percent of his group’s overall profits come from US menthol.
BAT said evidence from other markets, including Canada and the European Union, where similar bans have been imposed, shows little impact on overall cigarette consumption.
Thursday’s announcement has no near-term bearing on the ability to manufacture, market, sell or consume flavored cigars or menthol cigarettes, Imperial said. “We believe that any final implementation, if it comes, is several years away.”