Leading cardiologist says prohibiting menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars would save lives in communities targeted by Big Tobacco

DALLAS, Nov. 1, 2023 — Action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would save lives and improve health in communities long targeted by the tobacco industry, according to renowned cardiologist Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA.

Albert, the immediate past president of the American Heart Association, a past president of the Association of Black Cardiologists and the Walter A Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair in Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco, published an opinion column in Essence magazine asserting that the FDA should stop the sale of these dangerous products.

“Removing menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market will save lives, improve health and reduce health care costs,” said Albert in her column. “It also will help close serious racial disparities in health. The FDA should move forward to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars – a move that would constitute an enormous step forward to protect public health, especially among marginalized communities.”

Earlier this month, the FDA sent rules that would end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars to the White House for final regulatory review. This followed a lengthy rulemaking process during which the American Heart Association and numerous other public health groups strongly urged the agency to quickly issue final rules and remove these harmful products from the market.

Tobacco companies have long targeted specific populations with menthol and other flavored products. A report from Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising (SRITA), a research unit of Stanford Medicine, and the American Heart Association released last year detailed Big Tobacco’s decades of marketing menthol products especially to Black communities, women and youth.

Today, 85% of all Black people who smoke use menthol, and menthol use is high in Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian/Alaska Native and LGBTQ+ communities. Black youth are also more likely to smoke cigars than cigarettes and smoke cigars at a higher rate than other racial and ethnic groups. Youth and young adults are more likely to smoke menthol than any other age group and nearly 75% of young people who smoke cigars report that they use the products because they come in flavors they like, such as strawberry, chocolate brownie and banana split.

In her column, Albert also emphasized the need to provide support to people who use these products by helping them manage stress and anxiety and providing resources for quitting tobacco use altogether and adopting healthy habits.

If the administration follows through with its commitment to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the shelves, “the public health community should work to ensure that all communities, especially populations who are systematically disadvantaged, have healthy, effective ways of reducing stress so they can stand up against the dangerous lure of tobacco use,” Albert wrote.

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