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The Food and Drug Administration today announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes. As NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports, this move is the latest effort by the FDA to try to fight smoking by young people.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Cigarette smoking has hit a record low, but millions of Americans still smoke. And vaping has become wildly popular among teenagers, raising fears a new generation is getting hooked on nicotine. So the FDA announced several steps today aimed at fighting smoking among young people, including a plan to ban menthol cigarettes.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Menthol is pernicious. Menthol is an on-ramp to smoking for kids.
STEIN: That's FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He says menthol makes it easier for kids to start smoking.
GOTTLIEB: The burning, the coughing that comes with that first cigarette or starting on tobacco is masked by the menthol. And so the menthol becomes a very pernicious tool by which it becomes easier for children to start smoking.
STEIN: The FDA wants to ban flavored cigars that appeal to kids, too, and is imposing tough new restrictions on the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes to make it much harder for kids to start vaping.
GOTTLIEB: An alarming number of kids are becoming addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes, and the primary vehicle by which these products have appealed to kids are the fruity flavors. And we need to address that.
STEIN: The moves are being hailed by antismoking activists. Matthew Myers is the president of the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. He wishes the FDA was banning flavored e-cigarettes altogether, even for adults, but welcomes the menthol ban.
MATTHEW MYERS: FDA's decision to move forward with a ban on menthol cigarettes is one of the most significant public health actions that the FDA has taken in years and will have a greater impact on the death and disease caused by tobacco in the United States than almost any other single action.
STEIN: The menthol ban is also being welcomed by advocates for African-Americans. Menthol cigarettes are especially popular among blacks. Carol McGruder is the co-chair of the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. She charges tobacco companies have long targeted blacks with menthol brands.
CAROL MCGRUDER: So they're more popular because they were - you know, they preyed upon us. So they had media campaigns. They used Ebony and Jet magazine, you know, had Newport advertising and Kool advertising in every edition. And given all the other things - the other issues that African-Americans have to deal with, it was just - we were just very easy prey.
STEIN: Cigarette companies deny those charges and object to any efforts to ban menthol. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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