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November 15, 2018

FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

E-cigarettes face more restrictions

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars as part of an effort to curb underage tobacco use.

As expected, the FDA also cracked down on e-cigarettes by limiting the sale of most products to brick-and-mortar stores that do not permit access to people under 18. The new policy effectively bans convenience stores and gas stations from selling e-cigarettes, while also increasing age-verification requirements for online purchases. The actions come as the FDA has declared the use of e-cigs by minors a health epidemic.

A few exceptions apply.

The FDA will permit mint and menthol flavored e-cigarettes to be sold at convenience stores and gas stations because data suggests those flavors are far more popular with adults than teenagers. Restricting those flavors could prevent some adults from transitioning from combustible cigarettes, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested.

But when it comes to combustible cigarettes, youth smokers are more likely to use menthol cigarettes than any other age group, Gottlieb said. About 54 percent of smokers between ages 12 and 17 use menthol cigarettes.

So, the FDA is moving to ban menthol in the tobacco products.

"I believe these menthol-flavored products represent one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. "The menthol serves to mask some of the unattractive features of smoking that might otherwise discourage a child from smoking."

The FDA's decision to ban flavored cigars is based in a similar rationale. Youth are more likely to smoke flavored cigars than adults, Gottlieb said.

"The bottom line is that these efforts to address flavors and protect youth would dramatically impact the ability of American kids to access tobacco products that we know are both appealing and addicting," Gottlieb said. "This policy framework reflects a re-doubling of the FDA's efforts to protect kids from all nicotine-containing products."

Gottlieb suggested the FDA will adopt more stringent policies if these measures do not curtail teenage tobacco use. But he said the FDA wants to strike a balance between eliminating youth access and assisting adult smokers transition away from combustible tobacco products.

"But make no mistake," Gottlieb warned. "If the policy changes that we have outlined don’t reverse this epidemic, and if the manufacturers don’t do their part to help advance this cause, I’ll explore additional actions."

The announcement came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing e-cigarette usage has increased significantly among teenagers within the last year.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey found that current use among high school students rose by 78 percent in 2018. Among middle school students, current usage jumped by 48 percent. All told, some 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018 – an increase of more than 1.5 million teens from 2017.

“The markedly accelerating rate of e-cigarette use among U.S. youth within the past year is a cause for grave concern,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “E-cigarette use is unsafe among youth, and it’s critical that we implement proven strategies to protect our Nation’s youth from this preventable health risk.”

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