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The US is proposing a ban on menthol cigarettes, which are popular among black smokers

U.S. regulators have proposed banning menthol cigarettes, targeting a taste that makes up about a third of all sales in the country, in an effort to eliminate tobacco-related diseases and deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday it would draft product standards next year, banning menthol-flavored cigarettes if accepted, the only additional flavor still allowed. He also proposed banning any kind of flavoring in cigarettes.

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s tobacco center, said the new flavor standards will “reduce the onset and use of cigarettes and cigars.” . . help save lives and improve the public health of our country when we address the root cause of preventable diseases and deaths ”.

Menthol cigarettes have been marketed in black communities in the U.S. for decades: approximately 85% of black smokers buy menthol, up from 30 percent of white smokers, according to the FDA.

“While there has been tremendous progress over the last 55 years in quitting smoking, not everyone is experiencing the same progress,” Zeller added.

The announcement is just the first step in the regulatory process that is expected to take years, and is likely to be tackled by tobacco groups. It’s not the first country to take that path – menthol cigarettes were banned in the EU and the UK last May.

Altria, who makes Marlboro cigarettes, said while the smoker shared the goal of transitioning to non-harmful alternatives, “the ban doesn’t work.” The U.S. team said it is “continuing this multi-year process.”

British American Tobacco questioned the scientific accuracy of the FDA’s decision-based research, arguing that it would be involved in “presenting strong science-based evidence in the process of making the rules.”

The UK group, behind the well-known brand Newport menthol, said it had previously switched to 91 per cent of menthol smokers in non-menthol cigarettes after being banned in the EU, while another 9 per cent switched to menthol-flavored vaping devices.

A U.S. branch of Imperial, the founder of the mentholated cigarette brand Kool, said in a statement that “the process of making the rules will reveal that there is no clear scientific evidence to support a ban on federal menthol and flavors.” “It will ensure that the voices of our adult consumers and wholesale and retail partners are represented,” he promised.

Shares of BAT fell more than 2 percent on Thursday evening, and 1 percent fell in Altrian and Imperial. There have been tobacco stocks under pressure a few weeks ago the FDA was moving to propose a ban amid speculation.

Owen Bennett, an analyst at Jefferies, said he is “pretty calm” about the FDA’s proposal. “Today’s update is not yet a proposed rule, but a commitment to provide the proposed rules [and it] it will be a few years before the last rule, ”he added.

The FDA’s action was in response to a lawsuit filed by the African-American Leadership Council for Tobacco Control and the Smoking and Health Act, which sued the agency for failing to respond to a public request to ban menthol cigarettes since 2013.

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