Should the FDA Ban Menthol Cigarettes?

Tobacco companies are up in arms. But health advocates say it's long overdue, especially for black smokers.

By Thoai Lu Mar 22, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration wants to ban menthol cigarettes after a year-long study that detailed their adverse health effects in comparison to other cigarettes, USA Today reported last week. It’s a highly racialized issue: African Americans are more likely to smoke menthols than any other racial group.

Those who oppose the ban, like R.J. Reynolds, maker of Kools, contend that it discriminates against the black community’s freedom of choice, while Valerie Yerger, a scientist at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco, is puzzled about why black leaders would oppose the ban, since smoking-related diseases disproportionately affect African-Americans. Menthols have higher levels of carbon monoxide, nicotine, and cotinine than other cigarettes, so their appeal is also a matter of affordability. Here are charts that map usage across smokers of different racial, age and gender groups.