Despite first being proposed in 2013, the rule that would prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes remains in limbo.

Menthol ban delayed yet again

California voters allowed a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products to go into effect during the nov. 8, 2022, election. Mario Tama via Getty Images

Dive Brief:

  • A proposed ban on menthol cigarettes has been delayed again, according to a Friday statement from Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The health department didn’t provide a timeline for revisiting the ban, but Becerra said that “It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time.”
  • The rule takes aim at a category of cigarettes that make up about 34% of sales according to NACS. Limited bans have already taken effect in places like California.

Dive Insight:

While cigarette sales in c-stores shrank year over year in 2022, according to NACS data, they remain the largest sales category in the industry, which means a ban has the potential to put a big dent in inside sales. 

Local bans that include menthol cigarettes are already causing pain. 7-Eleven Inc. reported in its second-quarter earnings that the impact of California’s ban on flavored tobacco sales in that state was so severe that it caused a nearly 1% drop in total U.S. comparable sales.

NACS applauded the delay, suggesting such a ban might push more customers to the black market.

“Real world data and results have shown that prohibition of menthol cigarettes does not reduce smoking or advance public health,” said Doug Kantor, general counsel at NACS, in an emailed news alert. “Instead, like the experience with prohibition of other entrenched products, it simply leads to more illicit sales.”

This rule, which was initially proposed in 2013, has now been delayed multiple times.

This latest decision stems from the Biden administration not wishing to anger many Black voters ahead of this year’s election, according to multiple news reports. According to a brief from the NAACP, menthol cigarettes have been particularly marketed toward Black communities. 

“This rule has garnered historic attention and the public comment period has yielded an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement.” wrote Becerra.

  • Federal menthol cigarette ban pushed back to March By Jessica Loder • Dec. 7, 2023



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