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Many Chicago Smokers Think Potential Menthol Ban Is A Good Idea

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A woman lights up. (file/AFP Getty Images)

A woman lights up. (file/AFP Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Following in the footsteps of similar bans on cigarette flavorings like fruit and spices, a federal committee is recommending that the government ban menthol cigarettes from the marketplace.

As CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, the panel says the ban would benefit public health, and many Chicagoans agree.

In the Garfield Park neighborhood, Stephan Crockett says he started smoking when he was 17 and has been smoking for three years now. For Crockett and his friends and most of the people they know, the cigarette of choice has always been menthol.

“I guess the feel of it, the sensation of it,” explained 25-year-old Eric Arnold who’s been smoking since he was 16. 

That sensation comes from the menthol flavoring, which an FDA panel says has a cooling and numbing effect that can make smoking seem less harsh and more appealing, especially to young people.

For decades, community leaders and health organizations have called for a ban on menthol cigarettes. Many say Friday’s recommendation is a step in the right direction.

“When you ban menthol cigarettes, fewer kids will start smoking, and it will be easier for people to quit smoking,” says Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

Longtime smokers like Isaiah Underwood, who has been smoking for 40-years, agree. He says if they ban menthol cigarettes, he’d stop smoking. 

“I wouldn’t go back to the harsh, non-filtered cigarettes,” Underwood, 60, said.

But others aren’t so sure. 

“Banning ain’t going to really do nothing,” Kenneth Seaphus said.

And even those who have kicked the habit say it’s not the government’s place to decide.

“Let the society voice their own opinion on if they want to smoke or not,” said Tanika Finley, who quit smoking two years ago.

But supporters of the ban say government action is long overdue. 

“The faster the FDA acts, the more lives we’re going to save,” Africk says.

The FDA is expected to issue a progress report on its review of the panel’s findings in about 90 days. If a ban is enacted, it’s expected to take years.  Current law already bans flavorings like fruit and spice from being used in cigarettes.

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