NACS Reiterates Concerns About Eliminating Menthol Cigarettes

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Last week, NACS sent a second letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Product Safety Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to emphasize concerns with discussions ongoing at the agency that would phase out or eliminate the menthol cigarette market. On September 27, TPSAC’s Menthol Subcommittee will meet to discuss regulation of the market.

The FDA has clear authority under the Tobacco Control Act to regulate the contents and safety of tobacco products. However, NACS feels that discussions leaning towards eliminating the menthol category from the marketplace will have consequences that have not been thoroughly vetted.

It is impossible to assume that a menthol ban will reduce underage smoking, which is the announced objective of, and justification for virtually every provision of the Tobacco Control Act. 

If anything, a ban on menthol will aggravate, not mitigate, underage smoking problems. A menthol ban will undoubtedly lead to the creation of menthol cigarette black market because of the broad consumer base that exists among adult smokers. The purveyors of menthol cigarettes, operating outside of the law, will not abide by any age-verification requirements.

NACS believes that a ban on menthol in cigarettes risks giving rise to an entire industry of unregulated cigarette products. It is simply not reasonable to expect that the menthol market, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of cigarette sales today, will vanish overnight, or could be phased out over time. Combined with the relative ease of obtaining menthol flavorings, contraband manufacturers will sprout up very quickly.

That black market creates health concerns, first and foremost. Current manufacturers operate within the full scrutiny of the FDA in satisfying customer demand. Illegal manufacturers, obviously, will not, and therefore cigarette contents, purity, nicotine and tar levels, to name just a few issues, will all be subject to their whims. 

Congress specifically recognized in the Tobacco Control Act that the FDA should play a role in regulating the manufacture of cigarettes; banning menthol will eliminate the important public health safeguards that Congress intended in that act.

A ban also will create a “grey” market in menthol cigarettes that are manufactured legally abroad, but imported under dubious legal circumstances. Without a domestic source for menthol cigarettes, smokers will simply purchase them over the Internet, when they travel abroad or rely on bulk importers/distributors. 

Also, a menthol ban will lead to reduced tax revenues for the federal and state governments. By eliminating 30 percent of the legal cigarette market, the FDA would eliminate revenues derived from those sales.

NACS will continue to interact with the FDA and make sure that retailers concerns are heard. Read more information on the latest rules and regulations regarding tobacco retailing.

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