FDA to Propose Ban of Menthol Cigarettes

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The FDA concluded in 2013 that menthols are harder to quit and likely pose a greater health risk than regular cigarettes.

The FDA concluded in 2013 that menthols are harder to quit and likely pose a greater health risk than regular cigarettes.


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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration isn’t just cracking down on e-cigarettes. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also plans to pursue a ban on menthol cigarettes, according to senior agency officials.

It could take a year or more for a rule banning menthol to be finalized, and then another year for it to be enforceable in the marketplace. But a ban on menthols would be a big blow to

British American Tobacco


BTI -4.24%

PLC, which sells the Newport brand of cigarettes in the U.S.

BAT’s U.S. subsidiary, Reynolds American, in 2015 paid $25 billion to acquire Lorillard Inc. and Newport, the leading menthol brand in the country. Menthols last year represented 55% of BAT’s U.S. cigarette sales by volume and about 20% of rival

Altria Group
’s


MO -2.98%

cigarette sales, according to Cowen analyst Vivien Azer.

The FDA concluded in 2013 that menthols are harder to quit and likely pose a greater health risk than regular cigarettes. The agency said use of the cigarettes, which are flavored with the compound menthol, was likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults, possibly because menthol helps reduce the throat irritation caused by cigarette smoke.

But it wasn’t until last year that the agency signaled it was actively considering a ban on menthols and other flavored tobacco products. The tobacco industry has rejected the FDA’s findings. BAT didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday, and an Altria spokesman declined to comment.

Dr. Gottlieb is expected to announce as early as next week sharp restrictions on the sale of most flavored pod-style e-cigarettes, effectively pulling them from most convenience stores and gas stations and requiring strict age-verification controls for online sales, according to senior agency officials. Those actions are aimed at reversing a surge in vaping among children and teens. E-cigarette products in mint, menthol and tobacco flavors will be allowed to remain in all retail outlets for now, but mint and menthol flavors could be restricted later if youth use continues to increase, senior agency officials said.

FDA officials—who want to curb use among youth while still encouraging adult cigarette smokers to switch to less harmful products like e-cigarettes—decided not to restrict sales of mint and menthol e-cigarettes because they didn’t want to create a situation in which cigarettes were more attractive to smokers who prefer menthol, senior agency officials said.

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com

Appeared in the November 10, 2018, print edition as ‘FDA Aims to Ban Menthol Cigarettes.’