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Medical groups, experts, say FDA's ban on menthol cigarettes is 'long overdue'

Menthol Cigarettes
Posted at 5:57 AM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 07:57:56-04

Medical groups say the FDA's recent move to ban menthol in cigarettes and cigars is long overdue.

It's been a decades-long battle that some say, finally, has a happy ending.

As a kid, Nia Heard-Garris could name all of the cigarette brands.

“Growing up in a Black community, I could name to you all of the menthol-based cigarettes on the market because there were so many billboards in my community," Heard-Garris said. "There were so many advertisements for cigarettes everywhere, and I never smoked.”

She didn't realize it as a child, but her community specifically was flooded with images, pictures, and ads about smoking.

“It was seen as though this is what Black people did," Heard-Garris said. "Black people use menthol cigarettes. They don’t use those other ones. If you’re going to be cool, you’re going to use these, and it’s harder to quit because it doesn’t taste as bad.”

Unfortunately, she says, the ads worked.

“I think the statistics say that 90% of black people that smoke — smoke these menthols,” Heard-Garris said

Fast forward to today, and Heard-Garris is a doctor at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. She's also chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on minority health, equity, and inclusion.

The FDA's decision, she says, is a long time coming.

In 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes, but not menthol.

Dr. Toni Richards-Rowley, a pediatrician and a committee member on federal government affairs for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it took a lawsuit filed last year that forced the FDA to make changes.

She's witnessed her young patients fight with addiction.

"I see them struggle either with vaping cigarette products or smoking, and I see them trying to stop and not being able to the addiction to nicotine is a real thing,” Richards-Rowley said.

Now she says the battle isn't over.

“When are you, and how are you going to get these products off the shelves so they can’t be used by children and young adults and older adults for that matter,” Richards-Rowley said.

It could take more than a year for the ban to take place. While it may be a while, Heard-Garris says it's certainly a step in the right direction for the future.

“It makes me be like we need to do better," she said. "Call this out, call out other things so we can do better and demand better for our kids and the next generation.”