NATO Raises Concerns Over Proposed Menthol Ban With Federal Officials

The group argues that rulings would have substantial negative economic impact on reputable, licensed and regulated retail businesses.
Danielle Romano
a pack of Menthol Cigarettes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After indicating that it will not publish final rules to ban menthol cigarettes and characterizing flavors in cigars until at least March 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to face opposition from a variety of sources. This time, the pushback is coming from the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO).

Last week, NATO met with representatives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Executive Office of the President, the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to advocate that the final rulings not be published.

In its meeting with federal officials, NATO argued publication of the rulings would: 

  • Have a substantial negative economic impact on reputable, licensed and regulated retail businesses;
  • Negatively impact government revenues and the public programs which they fund; abd
  • Result in significant unintended consequences, such as the supply of these products shifting from licensed and regulated retailers to an already flourishing illicit market.

It also argued that licensed and regulated retailers, like NATO's members, sell tobacco products responsibly and are in compliance with all laws and regulations, which already prevents youth access to menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

In October — more than a year after the FDA first announced its intention to ban menthol — the group submitted a final product standard that would prohibit the use of menthol in cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and heated tobacco products to the OMB for final review. This is step eight of the nine-step federal rulemaking process. During the review process, OMB evaluates whether to clear the rule for final publication or send it back to FDA for further review. 

During the review process, the Administration and federal agencies evaluate the rules and meet with interested stakeholders to consider policy arguments around the cost and benefits of the rules, among other topics. According to OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website dashboard, OMB has taken or scheduled more than 50 meetings through Jan. 11, 2024, with tobacco retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, trade associations, policy groups, tobacco control organizations and other stakeholders. 

[Read more: Small Operator Trade Groups Rally Against Proposed Menthol Ban]

The FDA's Center for Tobacco Products has stated that finalizing these rules remains a top priority for the agency. If these rules are finalized, they will likely not be effective for at least one year following publication. This effective date could be further delayed if the rules are challenged in court by the industry, NATO reported.

The FDA previously targeted August 2023 for publication of the final rules.

NATO is a national trade association organized to enhance the common business interests of all tobacco retailers, and to monitor and assist members in responding to tobacco-related legislation on the local, state and federal levels.

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