Next tobacco fight set: FDA to ban menthol cigarettes

Some years ago — actually, it was many — a wise father told his son he did not want him sneaking cigarettes out behind the garage, as the father had done in his youth. So, off the pair went to the store. The teenager picked a pack of menthol cigarettes. The father paid with quarters.


For two days, I puffed and puffed. And coughed and coughed. And decided quite quickly that smoking cigarettes, even minty ones, may have looked cool in the movies. But it was not for me.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that menthol cigarettes and cigars should not be for anybody in this country, especially young people who like the flavors and think it looks cool.

The regulators are moving to ban both of them, which would remove about a third of the 250 billion cigarettes incinerated in this country each year. The FDA is also moving over the next few months to restrict the availability of the popular flavored e-cigarettes to youths.

It might not surprise you to learn that menthol cigarette makers do not like the idea. “A total ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars would be an extreme measure not supported by the science and evidence,” said one.

A spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., maker of Newport, the top-selling menthol brand, suggested the British-owned company might pursue legal action to stop it. Two years ago menthol cigarette sales represented more than half of Reynolds’ $12.5 billion revenue.

There’s no real rush for the courts. It will take a year or so to draft the regulation. Hey, it’s Washington. And another year to begin enforcement because, Washington again.


The not-so-secret ingredient in these cigarettes is menthol, a naturally occurring part of mint. The menthol tastes pleasant, if you like mint. And like the menthol in cough drops, it feels cool and reduces throat inflammation from smoke. Of course, an easier method of reducing that throat inflammation would be not inhaling smoke.

Several cities including Chicago have already moved or are considering a ban on menthol cigarettes, which helps menthol cigarette sales in adjacent suburbs.

And some Windy City aldermen from minority neighborhoods point out the city’s high taxes on tobacco products have encouraged a flourishing underground cigarette market providing considerable revenue to gangs selling individual smokes on street corners from Indiana and the suburbs.

By the way, that wise father eventually quit his heavy smoking of Camels, but died from emphysema anyway. His wife, my mother, smoked Chesterfields her entire adult life right up to the day she entered the hospital to die of lung cancer.

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