The federal government has declared that it's considering a complete removal of menthol cigarettes from store shelves, but New Jersey may not wait around for a decision.

A proposed law that bans menthol cigarettes in the Garden State has been reintroduced and could see legislative action in the coming weeks.

"I'm hoping to have a hearing on the bill ... before we break for summer recess, to get this thing moving along and hopefully done," state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chair of the Senate Health committee, told New Jersey 101.5.

Vitale, who also authored New Jersey's ban on flavored vape products and a 2006 law that bans indoor smoking in most public places, said the move would likely put a dent in the number of young people who try cigarettes. He also noted that a strong majority of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes — marketing for decades, he said, was targeted almost exclusively toward Black communities.

Because of "more addictive menthol cigarettes," Black smokers have a harder time quitting smoking and die at higher rates from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke, according to the Center for Black Health and Equity.

On April 28, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a proposal to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, as well as all flavors of cigars.

The FDA wrote:

Menthol is a flavor additive with a minty taste and aroma that reduces the irritation and harshness of smoking. This increases appeal and makes menthol cigarettes easier to use, particularly for youth and young adults. Menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects. The combination of menthol’s flavor, sensory effects and interaction with nicotine in the brain increases the likelihood that youth who start using menthol cigarettes will progress to regular use. Menthol also makes it more difficult for people to quit smoking.

The FDA began collecting public comment on its proposal on May 4. The agency has public listening sessions scheduled for June 13 and June 15.

"New Jersey has been a leader on this issue for a very, very long time, and we are confident that the New Jersey Legislature will again be a leader," said Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of New Jersey-based Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy.

But unlike the federal proposal, New Jersey's legislation does not address flavored cigars, Blumenfeld said.

"Many little cigars now look like cigarettes," she said.

The FDA is accepting comments on its proposal through July 5. After that, the agency will decide whether to issue final product standards. Anti-smoking advocates claim the process could take at least a year.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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