Even if the FDA is successful, the ban is likely to take years to implement amid possible legal challenges from the tobacco industry, which has targeted Black Americans in its menthol marketing.
The US Food and Drug Administration has proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes in the United States, a win for anti-tobacco and civil rights groups, but a move that could erase a huge chunk of sales for cigarette manufacturers.
The FDA is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a flavour in cigarettes and ban all flavours in cigars, the agency said on Thursday.
The ban is likely to take years to implement amid possible legal challenges from the tobacco industry, which has repeatedly went up against the FDA to try and block anti-tobacco regulation.
The decision comes as the FDA was forced to act by an April 29 court deadline to respond to a 2013 citizen's petition seeking a ban on menthol cigarettes that activists say Black Americans were the most impacted by the industry's marketing of the product.
"Banning menthol — the last allowable flavour — in cigarettes and banning all flavours in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products," Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
According to a Bernstein research estimate, British American Tobacco Plc generates 55 percent of its cigarette volumes in the United States from menthols, led by its Newport brand, compared with 30 percent for Imperial Brands Plc and 17 percent for Altria Group Inc.
Shares of Altria, BATS and Imperial Brands were down about 1 percent after the FDA announcement.