FDA moves toward menthol cigarettes ban
Philip Morris USA's market share is 9.4%
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it plans to ban sales of menthol cigarettes, a billion-dollar industry in which Philip Morris USA has a 9.4% market share.
Philip Morris USA, a subsidiary of Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc., manufactures Marlboro menthol cigarettes among its other brands, but R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s Newport cigarettes are the top-selling menthol brand in the United States. The ban, which was widely anticipated after the FDA announced its intentions in spring 2021, would affect only traditional menthol cigarettes, not heated tobacco products like Altria’s IQOS and Marlboro HeatSticks. Those products, however, were pulled from the U.S. market in November 2021 after the federal International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that the products violated patents held by rival Reynolds.
“We believe harm reduction, not prohibition, is the better path forward,” Altria Group spokesman Steven Callahan said in a statement Thursday. “Taking these products out of the legal marketplace will push them into unregulated, criminal markets that don’t follow any regulations and ignore minimum age laws. We will continue to engage in this long-term regulatory process.”
Proponents of the ban, however, contend that the menthol ban could reduce the number of Black and younger smokers who are more likely to purchase mint-flavored cigarettes.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
According to the FDA, there were more than 18.5 million U.S. menthol smokers ages 12 and older in 2019, and studies have suggested that the nation could see a 15% reduction in smoking within 40 years if menthol cigarettes were banned, as well as a reduction of 324,000 to 654,000 deaths attributed to smoking over that time.
Altria also reported its 2022 first-quarter earnings Thursday, recording net revenue of $5.89 billion since Jan. 1, a decrease of 2.4% compared with the first quarter of 2021. The report says that supply chain disruptions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have contributed to higher energy prices, changes in consumer behavior and overall inflation.