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Smokers Say FDA Proposed Menthol Ban Will Help Them Quit

cigarettes smoking

The FDA wants to ban menthol cigarettes, eliminate flavored cigars and increase regulation of e-cigarettes.

Outside of a smoke shop in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood, one Charlotte resident says she’s willing to give up one of her vices for the greater good.

“I like the flavored cigars. I hate that we won’t have a choice, but I do understand how flavored cigars makes it easy for teens and underage children to become addicted,” Sharon Howard said.

“If it’s going to prevent teenagers from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco, you know I can deal with that.”

Down the street at Thomas Street Tavern, menthol cigarettes and vape products are plentiful on the bar’s patio. One regular says beer and menthols bring them together. Still, many people here aren’t alarmed by the FDA’s proposal.

One bar-goer says that he’s already lost his dad to cancer and other family members to smoking-related diseases and he doesn’t want to be next.

He says a ban of menthols would help him quit smoking.

Menthols, which provide a cool, minty sensation, are clearly most popular in this crowd, but e-cigarettes have a place as well.

Vapes are the smoke of choice for Don Johnson of Charlotte. In between drags, Johnson says he worries the FDA is going too far.

“You still have to show ID to get e-cigs, so I don't understand what the nature is around e-cigs and why they want to ban them,” he said.

The FDA’s proposal wouldn’t ban all e-cigarettes, but it does want to get rid of fruity flavors that they say attract young people. But before a ban could occur, the FDA would first have to issue a rule, followed by a public comment period.

Christine Weason of the American Cancer Society’s North Carolina office says the FDA’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. She spoke with WFAE's Mark Rumsey for All Things Considered. 

Mark Rumsey: What is the mission or goal of this proposal?

Christine Weason: This is a first step in terms of curbing youth access and youth initiation to tobacco and we know that many youth start smoking through menthol cigarettes or also flavored cigars. As well, we've seen such a huge spike in our youth use of e-cigarettes that this first step of restricted sale is just the first step to restricting and reducing the access that kids have to e-cigarettes, although we believe that there needs to be many many more steps in order to really address the epidemic of these e-cigarettes.

Rumsey: One concern that's been expressed is that in attempting to restrict the availability of these products to young people is that there may also be reduced availability to adult smokers who are using in some cases products like e-cigarettes to actually help them kick the habit if you will. Do you see that as a concern?

Weason: No we don't because first off, e-cigarettes are not approved by the FDA as a tobacco cessation device. There is some evidence that e-cigarettes do help smokers who want to quit but most of the studies are also being shown that these smokers are also being dual users. In other words, they're using e-cigarettes and they're also using combustible cigarettes and we are not advocating for the elimination of these products. We are just advocating for the elimination of flavored products so that our kids are not being subjected to initiation and then a lifetime of addiction.

Rumsey: And what about the proposed ban on menthol cigarettes. Why is that important in your opinion?

Weason: The overwhelming evidence shows that many youth and many folks become addicted through initiation of menthol cigarettes. And the evidence in science shows that the menthol has a cooling effect on your trachea and your esophagus.

Rumsey: So it's kind of easier to swallow so to speak and the freedom of choice argument certainly when it comes to adult use of these products. What about that argument that people have the right to engage in behaviors even if they are known or shown to be harmful?

Weason: Well we certainly live in a free country. And from my recollection, you know the right to smoke is not in our constitution. And so folks, yes we do have, you know, certain inalienable rights but you know tobacco products are the only products that if you use as they are intended they will shorten your life or they will kill you. And so I think that you've got to look at, you know, what is the risk versus what is the benefit to society.

And I believe you know a reasonable person would take a look and say hey you know yes you have a right to utilize these products in your own environment away from folks that you know, on the other hand the benefit to society is having a world that is cancer free perhaps or reducing all the deaths and the sickness that tobacco causes. I think that is a stronger argument and that weighs more heavily than the right of one individual to smoke a product that's going to kill them.

Rumsey: Christine Weason is with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in North Carolina. Thanks, Ms. Weason, for your time.

Weason: Thank you so much, Mark.