This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its proposed product standards to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and prohibit all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco) in cigars.

The government agency stated that the move could significantly reduce disease and death and lower youth experimentation and addiction, while increasing the number of smokers who quit.

In an article published by NPR on Friday (April 29), Keith Wailoo, author of the book “Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette,” called the FDA’s proposed ban a “long time coming.”

The author said that when federal regulations barred tobacco companies from advertising to the youth in the mid 60s, tobacco companies had to find other ways to sell cigarettes.

“It’s then that the industry began to pivot aggressively towards targeted marketing in Black communities,” Wailoo said. “A lot of Black periodicals, like Ebony, became so dependent on tobacco advertising, that they were silent of the devastating impact of smoking in the Black community.”

Wailoo went on to explain that tobacco industries would find influencers in Black communities such as barbers or bellhops and give them free samples. The companies also sponsored events Black people frequented like the Kool Jazz Festival.

A 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 85% of Black smokers preferred menthol cigarettes. In 2019, the FDA said there were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers ages 12 and older in the U.S., with particularly high rates of use by youth, young adults, and African Americans.

If menthol cigarettes were no longer available in the U.S., the FDA states that studies have estimated a 15% reduction in smoking within 40 years and an estimated 92,000 to 238,000 African Americans would avoid smoking-related deaths.

The NAACP, which admit to receiving funding from tobacco companies up until two decades ago, sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to make significant changes.

“This pattern of activity continues today with expanded marketing strategies like supporting and providing sponsorship funding for events, supporting various Black leaders with financial support, discounting menthol products in Black neighborhoods, and abundant advertising in stores frequented by Black communities,” the statement reads.

Beginning May 4, the FDA is asking for the public to provide comments on these proposed rules, which the FDA will review as it considers future action. Once all the comments have been reviewed and considered, the FDA will decide whether to issue final product standards.