The Debate on Regulating Menthol Cigarettes: Closing a Dangerous Loophole vs Freedom of Choice
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act exempted menthol from a flavoring additive ban, tasking the Tobacco Products Safety Advisory Committee to advise on the scientific evidence on menthol. To inform future tobacco control efforts, we examined the public debate from 2008 to 2011 over the exemption. Health advocates regularly warned of menthol’s public health damages, but inconsistently invoked the health disparities borne by African American smokers. Tobacco industry spokespeople insisted that making menthol available put them on the side of African Americans’ struggle for justice and enlisted civil rights groups to help them make that case. In future debates, public health must prioritize and invest in the leadership of communities most affected by health harms to ensure a strong, unrelenting voice in support of health equity.