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FDA may consider ban on menthol cigarettes in response to citizen petition

The FDA recently estimated that more than 19.5 million people are current menthol cigarette smokers.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could begin the process to ban menthol cigarettes this week as the agency faces a Thursday court-ordered deadline to respond to a citizen petition on the issue, according to reports.

The FDA has until April 29 to respond to the petition, according to NBC News, which was first sent to the agency back in 2013. The petition cited the decision by Congress in 2009 to ban tobacco companies from making flavored products, hoping for the same outcome for menthol.

Menthol, a flavor additive with a minty taste, is added to tobacco products to improve the flavor and reduce its harshness with a cooling sensation.

"Prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes is one of the most powerful steps the FDA can take to improve America’s health," the petition reads. "In light of the scientific evidence, there is no justification for continuing to give special treatment to the most deadly of all cigarette flavors."

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The FDA in February said that more than 19.5 million people are current menthol cigarette smokers. According to a national survey, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, NBC News found. 

Public health advocates, including those in the 2013 petition, believe banning menthol cigarettes could help save lives in communities of color.

Research shared by the FDA also claimed that menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit than non-menthol cigarettes, particularly among African American smokers.

The tobacco industry has sponsored music and events targeted at the African American community. And researchers have found that tobacco companies offer cheaper pricing on menthol cigarettes in Black neighborhoods, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper also added that the potential ban would be the first time the FDA uses its power to regulate cigarette contents. 

NBC News reported if the FDA decides to move forward with the ban, it could take several years to finalize.

View the full 2013 petition below: