The Food and Drug Administration is proposing rules that would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, the agency said on Thursday.

The proposed rules would prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, as well as all characterizing flavors in cigars, other than naturally-occurring tobacco.

If enacted, the agency says the rules would “significantly reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco product use,” as well as help deter younger people from experimenting with smoking and ultimately picking up an addiction to nicotine.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”

FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf made the remarks during a Senate subcommittee meeting looking at the agency’s 2023 fiscal budget.

“These actions are appropriate for the protection of public health,” he told committee members.

Menthol is a flavor additive and reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking, increasing appeal and making the cigarettes more accessible, particularly for youth, according to the FDA website.

Menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects.

In 2019, there were more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers age 12 and older in the United States, FDA statistics show.

More than 500,000 young adults and youth used flavored cigars in recent years, according to the FDA. Flavors like strawberry, grape, cocoa and fruit punch make them appealing to younger ages and make cigars easier to use.

“The authority to adopt tobacco product standards is one of the most powerful tools Congress gave the FDA and the actions we are proposing can help significantly reduce youth initiation and increase the chances that current smokers quit. It is clear that these efforts will help save lives,” Califf said in a statement.

“Through the rulemaking process, there’s an important opportunity for the public to make their voices heard and help shape the FDA’s ongoing efforts to improve public health.”

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