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Rutgers researchers call for ban on menthol cigarettes

Rutgers researchers are urging for a nationwide ban of menthol cigarettes in part due to their disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations.  – Photo by Pixabay

Rutgers researchers are urging for a nationwide ban of menthol cigarettes, particularly for the sake of vulnerable populations, according to an article from Rutgers Today.

Cristine Delnevo, director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies and a professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, and Ollie Ganz, a public health researcher and instructor in the Department of Health Behavior, Society and Policy, recently co-authored a paper that said banning menthol cigarettes should be considered a social justice issue, according to the article.

“A menthol ban is essential for the protection of youth, and African American youth in particular,” Ganz said.

A preference for menthol among cigarette smokers remains inversely correlated with age, and 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes a decade after Congress exempted menthol from the flavored cigarette ban in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, according to the paper.

Tasked by Congress to review the available scientific evidence concerning menthol cigarettes, the Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) reported in 2011 that menthol in cigarettes increases smoking initiation and dependence while decreasing the likelihood of cessation, especially among Black smokers, according to the paper.

“A menthol cigarette is inherently not more or less dangerous than a non-menthol cigarette,” Delnevo said. “But if the menthol makes (it) easier to start and hard to quit — then this brings increased health risks — as the longer you smoke, the greater the health risks.”

A recent study authored by Delnevo found that cigarette consumption declined 46 percent from 2000 to 2018, but 85 percent of the decline was attributed to non-menthol cigarettes. Ganz said she believes advertising is one of the most important reasons that menthol cigarette use continues to persist in vulnerable populations despite the decline.

“There is extensive research showing that the tobacco industry has been targeting the African American community with advertising for menthol cigarettes for decades,” she said. “Menthol cigarettes are also disproportionately promoted in lower-income communities. So I think that marketing is a huge part of this, but there is still a lot that we don’t know, particularly for certain vulnerable populations, such as sexual minorities and those with mental health problems.”

Preference for menthol among smokers is also disproportionately high among lesbian, gay and bisexual smokers, smokers with mental health problems, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and pregnant women, according to the paper.

The TPSAC concluded in its report that the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration issued advance notices in 2013 and 2018 of proposed rulemaking specific to menthol cigarettes, but has yet to act, according to the study.

The U.S. House of Representatives also passed a bill (H.R. 2339) this year including a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes, but its fate is unclear in the Senate, according to the study.

Pending federal actions, state and local actions to address menthol cigarette sales should be prioritized, according to the study.

“Individual states should ban menthol,” Delnevo said. “This has already happened in California and Massachusetts. New Jersey considered it but deferred action, given concerns about potential declines in cigarette tax revenue. This is trading short-term benefits (tax revenue) for long-term savings in reduced health care costs and lives.”

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