The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week that it plans to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in the United States. While the move could take years to implement, it would be a boon to reducing health disparities, says an expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Restricting menthol as a flavoring in tobacco products is particularly important because it has the potential to dramatically reduce tobacco-related health disparities,” said Douglas Luke, professor at the Brown School and an expert on tobacco control and prevention policy.
“Almost 90 percent of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes,” he said.
Menthol was specifically left out of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which has remained one of the most critical tobacco control policy gaps for the past decade, Luke said.
“Young and new smokers are also more likely to use menthol products,” he said. “The cooling nature of the menthol flavoring may help new smokers become addicted.
“For all of these reasons, the new FDA announcement represents one of the most potentially public health positive shifts in recent years.”
Luke is director of the Center for Public Health Systems Science at the Brown School, which focuses on research, evaluation and translation of evidence-based public health policies.
The center has used social network analysis to study communication and collaboration among public health organizations and agent-based modeling to explore the impact of tobacco control policies in retail settings.