FDA Sends Menthol Ban to the White House

A ban would spur growth in the illicit market.

October 20, 2023

The Food and Drug Administration has submitted its final menthol ban proposal to the White House. The proposal has not been made public, but it has been reported that it will ban menthol. The ban would prohibit using menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes. If implemented, FDA enforcement will address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers who manufacture, distribute or sell such products in the United States.

Jain Gaurav, an analyst for Barclays, spoke with the Winston-Salem Journal. “We expect a two- to three-year cycle from the day the FDA passes any rule to the time such rule is finalized after the likely court challenges,” Gaurav said. “We don’t expect a menthol cigarette ban from the FDA implemented (if it were to pass) at least until 2026.”

In April 2022, the FDA proposed two product standards regarding menthol. The first would ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, while the second would ban all characterizing flavors in cigars, including menthol.

NACS has expressed strong concern about the potential for these proposals in the past because of the likelihood that they would lead to increases in the illicit market for these products.

“History has proven that prohibition of a legal product that has an established user base doesn’t work and has negative consequences for our communities,” stated Anna Blom, NACS director of government relations. 

NACS believes that adopting these regulations that ban two of the most popular tobacco products in the United States will push a portion of current smokers to the illicit market and severely injure the convenience store industry,” wrote NACS in comments sent to the FDA in 2022. “These bans seek to prohibit the use of two of the most popular tobacco products among adult users, and it is unrealistic to assume that demand for these products will just disappear. Instead, an illicit market for these products will emerge, creating a larger problem within tobacco regulation than the FDA hopes to solve by instituting these bans.”

In addition, NACS believes the FDA has not taken into consideration how the banning of these products will place burdens on convenience store owners, who are already grappling with rising gas prices, a supply chain crisis, labor shortages, economic uncertainty and increasing crime in their communities.

“A tobacco product standard on menthol flavoring and flavored cigars risks expanding the illicit trade of tobacco in the United States while severely injuring the convenience store industry. NACS believes the federal government should enforce the tobacco regulations that currently exist and reduce the large problem of the illicit trade in tobacco before promulgating new regulations,” NACS concluded in its comments.

In 2021, 37% of all cigarettes sold in the United States were menthols.