FDA’s Menthol Ban Spells Big Break for Employee Wellness Programs

FDA’s Menthol Ban Spells Big Break for Employee Wellness Programs

In a landmark move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed a plan to ban menthol cigarettes. For companies with employee wellness programs, a federal ban on menthol could deliver a big break to help more smokers quit. Why?

Because policy changes such as this can spur smokers to make a quit attempt. When menthol smokers can’t access their favorite tobacco, it’s a valuable window to prompt quit-smoking efforts—before they switch to another tobacco product.

By offering evidence-based methods for cessation support, employers can help improve quit success 2- to 3-fold.

Cities such as Falcon Heights, Minn.; Cloverdale, Calif.; and Ontario, Canada have already implemented a ban on menthol cigarettes.

The short story: a menthol ban is likely coming to your area soon.

Here’s what you need to know about menthol cigarettes and how to help more smokers quit when a menthol ban happens.

Menthol cigarettes: deceptively easy to smoke, more addicting, more costly

Cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has declined to an all-time low of 14%—34 million smokers—in 2017. But menthol tobacco is an exception.

Menthol cigarettes have a particularly tenacious foothold in African-American communities, where nearly 90% of smokers choose menthol. Other groups, including Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and women, also disproportionately smoke menthol cigarettes.

99 percent of African-American smokers use menthol, compared to 39 percent of smokers overall

Menthol makes cigarettes easier to smoke. The chemical compound responsible for the minty taste creates cooling and anesthetic effects through the activation of certain sensory nerve receptors. It suppresses the body’s natural reaction to the chemical irritation of smoke, meaning less coughing.

Once addicted, menthol tobacco users find it more difficult to quit than those who use non-menthol products. Adult menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence, with higher rates of relapse when they do try to quit.

Menthol cigarette smokers also face greater and more costly health risks than those who prefer non-menthol tobacco.

A large study of over 5,000 smokers found that menthol smokers reported more trips to the emergency room and more hospitalization than those using unflavored tobacco. They also required more treatment for severe worsening of their lung disease. The reason? The anesthetic effect of menthol in the airways may make it more difficult to detect when lung disease is worsening.

Menthol bans: taking hold around the country

At the national level, the FDA is proposing a ban on menthol given its role in attracting youth to start smoking. Plus, the list of localities that now restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes continues to grow.

List of menthol cigarette bans by localities

A menthol ban can have profound effects on smokers. For example, in Ontario, Canada, twice as many people attempted to quit smoking in the first 30 days following a menthol cigarette ban than expected.

One survey found that support for a menthol ban was strongest among groups most likely to use menthol cigarettes. Nearly 40% of menthol smokers said they would quit smoking if menthol cigarettes were no longer available. This is consistent with previous surveys on menthol cigarettes showing that menthol smokers are brand loyal, and don’t find regular cigarettes an adequate substitute.

Are employee wellness programs ready?

For your organization to realize the cost savings and health benefits associated with a menthol ban, it won’t be enough to sit back and rely on policy alone.

Capitalizing on a menthol ban means connecting smokers with an easy-to-access, effective program—one that they actually use—to help them succeed.

This is why at the EX Program, we strategically partner with clients when a menthol restriction goes into effect in their area. We work with them to educate employees about the ban and raise awareness of the program they make available to help employees quit.

Interested in learning more about how you can offer a tobacco cessation program that employees actually want to use? Download Are Your Employee Benefits Truly Personalized?

Amanda Graham, Ph.D.
Amanda Graham, Ph.D.

Chief of Innovations

As Chief of Innovations, Dr. Amanda Graham leads the Innovations Center within Truth Initiative. The Innovations Center is dedicated to designing and building leading digital products for tobacco cessation, including the EX Program. She is internationally recognized as a thought leader in web and mobile quit-smoking interventions and online social networks and has been awarded over $15 million in research funding. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and serves on National Institutes of Health study sections and numerous journal editorial boards. Graham is Professor of Medicine (adjunct) at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

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