By Alice Seeley

On April 28, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a long-awaited proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The ban would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. The FDA said it is considering exemptions on a case-by-case basis for certain products, such as heated-tobacco devices or cigarettes with very low nicotine levels. The ban will not affect menthol e-cigarettes. This ban could prevent between 300,000 and 650,000 smoking deaths over 40 years.

Menthol products represent more than $20 billion in annual sales. Nonprofits such as Americans for Tax Reform and the Tax Foundation have warned White House officials that there could be a loss of as much as $6.6 billion in federal and state tax dollars in the first year of the ban.

This proposal comes a year after the FDA announced its intention to ban menthol cigarettes and still needs to be finalized. However, it could take years to implement as the ban is likely to face major opposition from the tobacco industry.

Menthol, a chemical derived from the mint plant that can also be made in a lab, is added to cigarettes to make smoking less harsh, providing a cooling sensation in the throat and making the experience more appealing. Menthol cigarettes make up about one-third of the $80 billion U.S. cigarette market, and an estimated 18.5 million Americans smoke them.

The Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, believes this ban will “help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit.”

The next step in the process is a comment period that will run from May 4 through July 5. The agency will take time to review the comments before the ban is finalized. The ban will take effect one year after the final version of the proposal is published. Public health experts are confident that tobacco companies will also try to stop the ban by suing the agency, as the companies have with past tobacco-control legislation.