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Tobacco lawsuits could upend Biden’s plan for historic menthol ban – Politico

Summary

But while the menthol cigarette suit is just revving up, the agency’s effort to decide which e-cigarettes can stay on the market could force it to confront the menthol question much sooner. FDA faced a court-ordered deadline in September to review all tobacco products introduced since 2007. It has banned millions of fruity flavored e-cigs and vapes but has largely avoided action on menthol varieties — including products from some of the largest e-cigarette …….

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But while the menthol cigarette suit is just revving up, the agency’s effort to decide which e-cigarettes can stay on the market could force it to confront the menthol question much sooner. FDA faced a court-ordered deadline in September to review all tobacco products introduced since 2007. It has banned millions of fruity flavored e-cigs and vapes but has largely avoided action on menthol varieties — including products from some of the largest e-cigarette companies. A renewed legal fight over the missed deadline could collide with the Biden administration’s plans to propose a wide-ranging ban on menthol tobacco products by April 2022.

It could also present an early challenge for Robert Califf, who President Joe Biden nominated on Friday to lead the agency.

“The FDA has put itself in a position of having sort of a tension between its action on menthol cigarettes and other kinds of flavored tobacco products — most specifically e-cigarettes,” said Joelle Lester, the director of commercial tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul.

An FDA spokesperson said the agency is developing a menthol policy and will finish its review of remaining e-cigarettes. But the agency has not made clear how it will handle the overlap between the two.

“Our commitment to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars is at the top of this Administration’s tobacco regulatory priorities,” said a spokesperson from FDA. “At the same time, our commitment to addressing youth use of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems [e-cigarettes] is unwavering.”

Menthol is one of the most popular flavors of tobacco products. It “helps the poison go down quicker,” said Erika Sward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy at the American Lung Association. By coating the throat with a soothing mint-like flavor, menthol masks the harsh flavor of burning tobacco.

As a result, public health researchers say that menthol cigarettes hook smokers on nicotine faster and makes it harder to quit. “It makes initiation easier,” said David Mendez, an associate professor of public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, who co-authored the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee report on menthol in 2011.

The tobacco industry, meanwhile, has consistently argued that available studies do not justify banning menthol-flavored products.

The battle over menthol dates to 2009, when Congress enacted the Tobacco Control Act, giving FDA the ability to regulate tobacco products. The law banned all flavored cigarettes, with the exception of menthol.

In 2013, over a dozen public health groups petitioned FDA to ban the flavor based on ample data showing the harm it caused — particularly among Black Americans. They disproportionately smoke menthol cigarettes compared to other demographics, largely because of decades of targeted …….

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/14/tobacco-lawsuits-biden-menthol-ban-521174