In a decisive move to further shake the tobacco industry, the Food and Drug Administration plans to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes next week as part of its aggressive campaign against flavored e-cigarettes and some tobacco products, said officials of the agency.
The proposal should go through the F.D.A. regulatory labyrinth, and could pass several years before such a restriction came into force, especially if the major tobacco companies dispute the agency's authority to do so. None of the major tobacco companies would have commented on the possibility of blocking menthol cigarettes at this early stage.
But such a move has long been expected by public health advocates, who have been particularly concerned about the high proportion of African Americans who become menthol-dependent cigarettes.
The dott. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the agency, did not want to comment publicly on Friday's proposal. But in a recent interview, the F.D.A. he was revisiting the problem, which had been weighed in previous administrations. "It was a mistake for the agency to back menthol," he said at the start of the fall.
Canada has already imposed a ban on menthol cigarettes and the ban on the European Union will come into force in 2020. At the start of this year, San Francisco passed a ban on sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.
The menthol proposal is only one of the numerous initiatives of the F.D.A. plans to announce sometime next week, including the ban on the sale of the most flavored electronic cigarettes, with the exception of menthol and mint, in stores and service stations across the country. The products, which include flavors like chicken and waffles and mangoes, would be mainly relegated to online sales, on sites where the agency hopes to impose strict age verification to ensure that minors can not buy them.
Since e-cigarettes have become a booming business and extremely popular among teenagers and young people, health officials, parents and others have become alarmed by the spike in the use of nicotine addictive products were considered alternative to traditional smoking for adults.
The F.D.A. began to target major e-cigarette manufacturers, focusing in particular on Juul Labs, the manufacturer of a popular and flashy product that has become almost ubiquitous in schools and on the streets.
Just a day after agency officials started posting details of next week's plan to ban some sales, Juul Labs indicated on Friday that it had decided to take many of its flavored cigarette pods out of the store shelves. wildly popular, according to several people informed by the company.
The vaping giant will continue to sell its liquid nicotine pods in mint, menthol and tobacco flavors in brick and mortar stores, but will limit other flavors that might be of interest to young people in online sales.
Juul Labs launched the device, which in 2015 looks like a USB stick, and now has about 77% of the US electronic cigarette market.
Last month, a competitor, Altria, said it would shut down most of its flavored e-cigarettes and would support federal legislation to increase the buying age to 21 for any tobacco and vaping product.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, had been a supporter of these restrictions.
"Even if you need to do more to completely regulate e-cigarettes like cigarettes, Juul's effort is a good step to eliminate the flavors suitable for children who have nurtured nicotine addiction from young Americans and can make a difference" , said Schumer. in an email
Lisa David, president and chief executive officer of Public Health Solutions, a New York-based non-profit group specializing in health issues for low-income families and migrants, said she opposed the maintenance of mint and menthol aromas readily available in stores, especially in view of the gateway effect for young people who start to vap and then switch to traditional cigarettes.
"Menthol makes it look less harsh, and it also does absorb more nicotine from the body," he said. "That means it's easier to start smoking and it's harder to stop."
Ms. David also wondered if Juul's restriction could be too late, due to the many similar devices, called "Juul-alikes", already on the market.
"Juul was clearly a very significant contributor to young people using e-cigarettes," said Ms. David. "At this point there are a lot of other versions of" Juul-alikes. "They have similar shapes and flavors and are attractive to the same audience."
The battle against menthol cigarettes has continued for decades.
According to the Youth Against Menthol campaign of NAACP, about 85% of African American smokers aged 12 and menthol smoke cigarettes, compared to 29% of white smokers, who the organization calls a result of decades of promotion of the culturally tailor-made tobacco company.
The most popular menthol brand in the United States is Newport, which is the second-biggest selling cigarette brand in the industry, according to R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Imperial Brands has two strong sellers, Kool and Salem. The most sold cigarette by Altria, Marlboro, is also available in menthol, as well as the R.J.R.
A spokesman for R. J. Reynolds declined to comment. Altria and Imperial Brands could not be immediately reached.
In a joint statement on Friday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and many other public health groups claimed that the action on menthol cigarettes was long-awaited.
"There is overwhelming scientific evidence that menthol cigarettes have had a profound negative effect on public health in the United States, causing more deaths and disease," the organizations said.
Although federal health officials released new reports this week indicating that traditional smoking had reached its lowest level since 1965, smoking-related deaths are still around 480,000 in the United States each year.