Less than six months until the federal government’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes could take effect, the opposition has been fully mobilized.
If you frequent a convenience store in Pennsylvania, you might see a poster that reads “The FDA Is Trying To Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars."
Scanning a QR code at the bottom of the poster takes you to the Citizens for Tobacco Rights (CFTR) website, where you can submit a comment in opposition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed menthol ban slated for April of next year.
Tobacco giant Altria Group formed CFTR 11 years ago to give consumers a place to coalesce over various nicotine-related issues.
Regarding menthol cigarettes, among the organization’s fears have been that state and local governments would jump ahead of the FDA and attempt to ban them.
That concern was realized on Nov. 8, when voters in California approved a ballot initiative banning flavored-tobacco products. The next day, R.J. Reynolds filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction on the ban.
The company wasn’t exactly caught off guard.
As reported by The New York Times, on Election Day the company unveiled advertising for two non-menthol products that offer a “crisp smoking experience.”
The ads referenced the California ballot initiative by stating “We know it’s tough. That’s why we crafted two new non-menthol styles for you to choose from.”
According to Altria, preventing smoking initiation—particularly among youths—is the FDA’s “bedrock justification for the proposed rule.”
However, underage use of menthol is at a historical low, according to research cited by the company.
And one of the tobacco industry’s main arguments against banning menthol cigarettes is that people would continue to obtain them anyway—but not from legal sources.
A menthol ban would “result in serious adverse and unintended consequences, such as the creation of a black market for menthol cigarettes,” CFTR states on its website.
Comments from Altria’s Client Services unit—on behalf of Philip Morris USA—are contained in a 120-page document filed with the FDA on Aug. 1.
“As with Prohibition in the 1920s, FDA’s proposal to ban menthol cigarettes will create unregulated, illegal markets, encourage criminal activity, and threaten the integrity of the regulatory system itself—consequences FDA has not considered,” Altria states.
The Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies disagrees.
“Menthol has been banned in Canada, the European Union, Massachusetts and a number of cities. Illicit markets exist, but there’s no evidence a menthol ban will lead to an expansion of it,” the Center’s Kevin RJ Schroth, J.D., tells Marketing Daily.
In a September report, investment firm Cowen & Company cited commentary from Dr. Jasjit Ahluwalia, a professor of behavioral and social sciences and internal medicine at Brown University, who projected that menthol cigarettes would be off the market in four to six years “including the timing for litigation, which we agree with.”