More than half of US adults support ending the sale of all tobacco products, according to a new study led by researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly two-thirds said they support banning menthol cigarette sales.
The poll, published Thursday in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, included 6,455 US adults surveyed in 2021 – before the US Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
Although cigarette smoking has declined in recent decades, it remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the US, where an estimated 30.8 million adults currently smoke.
Support for proposals to ban tobacco sales was lower among current tobacco users, according to the survey. More than a third of current smokers supported banning menthol cigarette sales, and more than a quarter supported banning all tobacco sales.
The FDA is still considering its proposed ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement when the proposal was announced. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
In the new study, researchers reported widespread support for a menthol ban across demographic groups.
“Our findings are generally consistent with previous research showing support for menthol cigarette sales prohibitions, including among population groups historically targeted by unjust marketing practices and with a high prevalence of menthol cigarette use (eg, non-Hispanic Black adults),” they wrote in the study.
Experts say menthol – the last flavor allowed in cigarettes – makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit. The additive can mask the harshness and irritation of tobacco, making cigarettes more appealing to young people and those who have never used tobacco products. It also enhances the effect of nicotine in the brain, making tobacco products even more addictive.
Research has shown that tobacco products, especially those with menthol, are disproportionately marketed to youth, racial and ethnic minorities, lower-income people and those who identify as LGBTQ+, all of whom are more likely to use these products and develop tobacco-related health problems.
“The science is clear: Menthol cigarettes have an adverse impact on public health and have no public health benefits as compared to non-menthol cigarettes,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement last year. “They increase the likelihood and degree of addiction among youth smokers, elevating the number of premature deaths from tobacco use. Their removal from the market would have enormous benefits for public health in this country.”
One study published in 2021 estimated that a menthol cigarette ban in the US would result in a 15% reduction in smoking as early as 2026 and up to 650,000 lives saved within 40 years.
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Many parts of the country have started moving in this direction. As of February 2022, at least 145 US communities prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored products. Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach, California, were the first cities to prohibit all tobacco sales.
The study authors say public support can continue to be an influential factor in the acceleration of policy adoption.
“These findings can inform federal, state, and local efforts to prohibit all tobacco product sales, including menthol cigarettes, reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related disparities, and advance health equity.”