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US Wants To Ban Menthol Cigarettes; How Can It Help Reduce Smoking In India, Specially In Beginners? EXPLAINED

Experts believe that menthol cigarettes usually attracts adolescents who initially start with a flavoured product, then switch to the regular cigarettes therefore banning it could prevent new users. 

Updated: April 30, 2022 2:53 PM IST

By News Desk | Edited by Analiza Pathak

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New Delhi: The US Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars on April 28. A step that public health officials say is essential to protect public health. While some reports call the move “a major victory for anti-smoking groups” they add that it could lead to harsh backlash from the tobacco industry. The move is still in its proposal stage and is yet to be finalized. The Biden administration first proposed the ban in 2021.  The agency believes that these actions would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit. Combusted tobacco product use is considered the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

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Why Ban Menthol Cigarettes?

Menthol is an equity issue that the FDA has been considering for more than a decade. About 18.6 million people smoke menthols in the US. That’s about 36% of all smokers, according to the FDA, and a disproportionate number are people of color.

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The CDC states that menthol in cigarettes is believed to make the absorption of harmful chemicals from the cigarette easier because menthol smoke is easier to inhale.

More than half of kids who smoke use menthol cigarettes, according to the CDC. A survey of adults who smoke found that the majority started with menthols. Other studies said kids who smoked menthol cigarettes were more likely to become regular smokers than occasional smokers.

Smoking rates in the US reached an all-time low in 2018, according to the CDC, but smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death, disease and disability in the country. In general, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US, including more than 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke.

Menthol cigarettes lure young people into smoking

Anti-smoking advocates have been arguing that menthol cigarettes play a role in attracting young people into smoking.

FDA said, “Menthol is a flavor additive with a minty taste and aroma that reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking. This increases appeal and makes menthol cigarettes easier to use, particularly for youth and young adults. Menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects. The combination of menthol’s flavor, sensory effects and interaction with nicotine in the brain increases the likelihood that youth who start using menthol cigarettes will progress to regular use. Menthol also makes it more difficult for people to quit smoking.”

What will be the impact of the ban?

The FDA said that the ban on menthol cigarettes, once implemented, would lead to a 15 percent reduction in smoking over 40 years. British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco, two of the largest tobacco companies in the US have stated that they aren’t too concerned, and expect the ban to take years to be implemented.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also put out a statement opposing the ban, saying that it would lead an increase in crime, citing the case of Eric Garner, “a black man who was killed by NYPD for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes”.

Will the ban help reduce smoking in India?

If similar ban were implemented in India, the impact might be limited as chewing tobacco and smoking bidi are the most common forms of tobacco use here. According to a report in The Indian Express, India has 26.7 crore tobacco users aged 15 and above, as per the last available Global Adult Tobacco Survet (GATS 2016-17) i.e. 18 per cent of the Indian population use s smokeless tobacco, 7 percent smoke and 4 per cent use both.

Even among smokers, “the impact of such a step would only be on young adults and women who are just starting to smoke. Apart from giving tobacco a present flavour, menthol reduces the harshness, irritation and somewhat the smell, making it appealing to those who have just started smoking or those who need to hide the smell from their family members,” Dr SK Arora, a chest physician, a former head of Delhi’s Tobacco Control Cell, and winner of a World Health organization (WHO) award for his role in controlling tobacco use in India, was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

He, however mentioned that once a person continues smoking for two weeks to a month, the flavour is of no consequences as they will just continue smoking regular cigarettes.

Monika Arora, Director of the Public Health Promotion Division, Public Health Foundation, India said that menthol cigarettes usually attracts adolescents who initially start with a flavoured product, then switch to the regular cigarettes therefore banning it could prevent new users.

It is to be noted that India has no official estimate on the number of people who use menthol or other flavoured cigarettes, but availability of various flavour has increased over the years.

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Published Date: April 30, 2022 2:52 PM IST

Updated Date: April 30, 2022 2:53 PM IST