African American group sues FDA for inaction on banning menthol cigarettes

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and Action on Smoking and Health filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday requesting that the court compel the FDA to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Over a year ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would seek to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes to combat youth smoking and promote public health, but then the plan stalled.

In 2009, Congress passes the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that created a flavor ban in cigarettes but excluded menthol, subject to further research. In 2011, the FDA’s Advisory Committee concluded that the “Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.”

Despite the conclusion and several statements of support in the interim, the FDA has not begun the rulemaking process of removing menthol from combustible cigarettes. The plaintiffs are asking the court to direct the FDA to take action.

The plaintiffs in the case said tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death in the African American community, and 85 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.

“By continuing to delay, the FDA and the U.S. government are failing to protect the health of U.S. citizens, particularly African Americans, and the U.S. is also falling behind the global trend as countries around the world are increasingly banning menthol,” said Kelsey Romeo-Stuppy, managing attorney at Action on Smoking and Health.

Officials have said in the past in response to questions about the delays in taking action that they must balance various interests.

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council says removing menthol and other flavored tobacco products are part of the larger issue of the need for a healthier America a more racially just America,

“Now is the time for the FDA to step up to the plate and do what it was supposed to do years ago – prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products,” said Phillip Gardiner, founding member and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.

The lawsuit can be read online at the Action on Smoking and Health website.

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