The FDA Center for Tobacco Products is beginning the process of banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. More than a decade after Congress passed the Tobacco Control Act and gave the menthol decision to the FDA. The FDA announced its intention to ban menthol cigarettes last spring and said it would have a draft rule ready within a year (Spring of this year which was the end of April). Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget completed its review of the FDA's proposed menthol cigarette rule.
When Will the Menthol Ban Take Effect
The menthol ban still has a long way to go before going into effect. After a 60-day public comment period, the FDA must produce a final rule, which could take a year or more. The FDA is known to take a long-time to produce final rules.
Following the "final rule", the FDA will have to set a date to implement the new rule, which could take another year. At that point, tobacco companies, like RJ Reynolds, will almost certainly sue the agency, which could postpone the ban further, possibly for many years. A Vaping360 article entitled "FDA Will Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Remains Silent on Menthol Vapes", also discusses how racial elements come into play. "The tobacco industry has strategically pushed menthol cigarettes into low-income neighborhoods and the black community for decades. Now one side wants to protect those communities by taking the menthol cigarettes away, the other side believes adults should be able to decide what flavor cigarettes they smoke for themselves."
According to Mitch Zeller, outgoing director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, agency enforcement of a ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars "would only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any other tobacco product." So basically, they are going after the supply chain. Small retail shops will still fall under prosecution by the Federal government if they sell menthol cigarettes.
Last Chance to Speak Up
The FDA announced concrete steps to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars; the agency has issued a draft rule to accept public comment on the menthol ban from May 4 to July 5. This is your chance to be heard before they make their final decision.
What's Next for Flavored Vapes?
If you are a leading disposable vape distributor or manufacturer, you are probably wondering what is next for menthol vapes. The FDA has remained silent about menthol vape flavors as an alternative for menthol cigarette smokers. The FDA appears to be postponing conversations about menthol vape flavors until a time that they are ready to make their decision on all flavored vapes. The FDA has yet to approve any flavored vape product (other than tobacco flavor) so far, even though initial studies are starting to find that vape flavor bans increase smoking rates.
It will be several years before any decision is made and laws are put into effect. Currently, the FDA is collecting public comments, then begins the task of reviewing the public comments and making a decision. If and when a decision is made it is fully expected that tobacco companies like RJ Reynolds will sue further postponing the final decision for years.
If the vape flavor issue is resolved before the menthol ban is decided we may actually see smokers moving to menthol vapes. If not it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. 18.6 million menthol smokers and 8.1 million vapers are waiting for an answer.