CITY HALL — The mayor is trying to stamp out menthol cigarettes, going so far as to suggest a nationwide ban.
Building on a campaign against menthols he initiated locally in July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seeking tighter regulation of the flavored cigarettes.
"Menthol cigarettes are a gateway into lifelong tobacco and nicotine addiction for our youth," Emanuel wrote in the letter, released by the Mayor's Press Office on Thursday. "We also know that menthol cigarettes are used disproportionately by women, racial minorities and the LGBT community."
Last month, city officials charged the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. with distributing coupons for cigarettes without the appropriate license at a Lakeview bar.
The letter sent to FDA Assistant Commissioner for Policy Leslie Kux, asked the federal agency to "take additional steps to regulate menthol cigarettes."
The letter cited a ban on flavored cigarettes targeted at novice smokers and "especially appealing to kids" that Emanuel backed while in Congress and saw passed in 2009 while White House chief of staff.
Menthols had escaped those additional regulations, Emanuel stated in the letter.
Emanuel wrote to "strongly urge" additional measures, adding that "all options should be on the table," from extra warning labels to "an outright ban."
He called on the FDA to expand its anti-smoking marketing campaign and extend the fight against flavored tobacco to other products such as cigars, electronic cigarettes and loose tobacco for use in pipes and hookahs, all of which he labeled "the next frontier of youth-focused products."
Anticipating a black market on the products should such a crackdown be effective, he also asked the FDA to take steps against the trafficking and sale of illegal cigarettes.
Emanuel said his campaign was prompted by the FDA's own study on the "Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Non-Menthol Cigarettes," released in July.
City health agencies held four hearings on menthol cigarettes this month, and Emanuel said he expects those hearings to produce a new report from the Chicago Department on Public Health on ways to combat menthols.