The following is a statement from Dr. Avenel Joseph, vice president, Policy at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
The FDA has finalized rules to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Together, these would be monumental victories in our nation’s ongoing quest to achieve health equity. Yet the White House recently delayed the release of these rules soon after administration officials met with tobacco company representatives and their allies. The administration must end these needless delays and allow the FDA to complete its life-saving work.
I have seen firsthand the terrible suffering that tobacco companies inflict on families and communities. Menthol makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, which is why tobacco companies have long targeted menthol cigarettes to people of color and children. This racist business model, fueled by predatory marketing schemes, has been catastrophic: between 1980 and 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for more than 10 million new people smoking and 378,000 premature deaths.
The solution is simple. The FDA estimates that banning menthol cigarettes would save upwards of 654,000 lives, including up to 238,000 Black lives, over the next 40 years, and sharply reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. Despite the steep decline in rates of tobacco use since the Surgeon General’s landmark 1964 report on smoking and health—released sixty years ago this week— smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Taking menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars off the market must be the next steps in this journey.
This moment goes beyond public health—it is about who we are as a nation and whose lives we value. We strongly urge the administration to make the right choice, and to make it now.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have.
Learn more about the Foundation's work advocating for higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free air laws, and well-funded programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.