The case for banning menthol fails on both public health and broader societal grounds, according to Guy Bentley, the director of consumer freedom research at Reason Foundation. On April 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars.
The agency said it is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year. As part of the rulemaking process, the FDA must solicit input and consider consequences of a menthol ban, including unintended consequences.
In a commentary published on the Reason Foundation’s website, Bentley says the proposed menthol ban is illiberal and violates the fundamental spirit of fairness. He goes on to lists 10 reasons why such a measure would be misguided:
- Contrary to what proponents of a ban say, most youth smokers don’t use menthol cigarettes. According to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the popularity of menthol cigarettes among young people has declined substantially. From 2014 to 2018, the percentage of youth smokers using a menthol product fell from 54.5 percent to 46.1 percent.
- While Black smokers use menthol at significantly higher rates than white smokers do, they have lower smoking rates overall. According to CDC data for 2020, the rate of smoking among Black, non-Hispanic high school students was 2.8 percent compared to 5.3 percent of white, non-Hispanic smoking high school students.
- Black adults smoke at a similar rate to white adults but the preferred products of white smokers aren’t targeted by the ban.
- States with higher menthol consumption have lower youth smoking rates.
- Menthol prohibition will create illicit markets and more police interactions, especially in minority communities. The U.S. illicit tobacco market is already between 8.5 percent and 21 percent of total sales and represents between $2.95 billion and $6.92 billion in lost gross state and local tax revenues.
- Menthol bans have a poor record of reducing smoking. According to a survey published by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, just 8 percent of European menthol smokers said they had quit after the EU ban on menthol cigarettes took effect in May 2020.
- Menthol cigarettes are no more dangerous than nonmenthol cigarettes. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that menthol smokers’ risk of lung cancer was around 30 percent lower than nonmenthol smokers.
- Menthol cigarettes are not more addictive than nonmenthol cigarettes.
- Menthol bans are unnecessary thanks to safer nicotine alternatives like e-cigarettes.
- Adults should be free to choose which cigarettes they smoke.