In an interview with the Washington Post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the agency is proposing a ban on menthol cigarettes citing youth and minority smoking rates.
According to the New York Times, a ban on menthol cigarettes could take several years to execute. It is a move that other nations have made. Canada has already implemented such a ban, and the European Union's menthol ban goes into effect in 2020.
According to the FDA, menthol may reduce the irritation and harshness of smoking. According to FDA statistics, more than half of youth smokers smoke menthols. Also, a disproportionate number of minorities smoke menthols.
Studies have also suggested that using menthol makes it more difficult to quit smoking, the FDA says.
There have been groups, such as the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, that have pushed the federal government to ban menthol cigarettes. The council's co-chair, Phillip Gardiner, told the Washington Post, "I’m sorry it has taken the FDA so long to come around but I’m glad they finally are. They should have done it 10 years ago and saved hundreds of thousands of lives."
According to FDA figures, more than 19 million Americans smoke menthols.