Tobacco addiction is not a choice. Research shows nearly 70 percent of people who smoke want to quit and about half of people who smoke make a quit attempt every year. The tobacco industry knows it must keep customers addicted, and companies use insidious approaches to maintain a customer base. Menthol and flavors have played a major role in the addiction equation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a crucial step forward when it announced it will begin the process to prohibit menthol flavoring in cigarettes and all flavors in cigars. Once finalized and implemented, this long-overdue action will help reduce youth tobacco initiation, help adults quit and reduce tobacco-related cancers, as well as combat Big Tobacco’s long targeting of Black communities, who consistently report the highest prevalence of menthol cigarette use as a result of predatory marketing tactics.

In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act prohibited the use of flavors in cigarettes and cigarette smoke but exempted menthol — a shocking deference to an industry that profits from products that result in death. However, Congress ordered the FDA to consider the evidence regarding menthol cigarettes and gave FDA authority to prohibit menthol if “appropriate for public health.”

In its 2011 report on menthol, FDA’s Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee estimated that more than 460,000 African-Americans would start smoking and 4,700 would die because of menthol cigarettes by 2020 and concluded “the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health.” In its own independent report in 2013, FDA found clear evidence that menthol increases initiation and progression to regular smoking, increases dependence, and decreases success in quitting. Finally, eight years later, FDA is taking the required next step to prohibit this flavor from deadly tobacco products.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) has long advocated for the elimination of menthol flavoring in cigarettes and all flavors in cigars in a call to end all flavors in all tobacco products. Tobacco use is the number-one cause of preventable death nationwide and contributes to one-third of all cancer deaths. Menthol is proven to make it easier to start smoking and more difficult to quit, which is precisely why Big Tobacco uses it.

Half of teens who smoke report menthol cigarette use, and nearly nine out of 10 Black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Big Tobacco has targeted Black communities, especially Black youth, with menthol cigarettes to line its pockets for decades through tailored advertisement, free product giveaways in Black neighborhoods and cheap prices and coupons.

The tobacco industry also uses flavors in other tobacco products to appeal to and addict young people. Cigars are the second most popular tobacco product used by youth. In a 2015 study, 74 percent of youth who used cigars reported flavoring as a primary reason for use. Removing flavors from cigars to match the flavor prohibition already in place on cigarettes will go a long way in reducing future deaths from tobacco-related diseases, especially cancer. Nearly all adults who smoke are addicted before the age of 25. Eliminating these products will make it more difficult for the industry to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction and will prevent premature death.

While we work to remove these products from the market, tobacco cessation must be prioritized. Removing menthol from cigarettes and all flavors from all cigars will encourage adults to quit. We must ensure these individuals have access to proven cessation services to improve the likelihood of successfully quitting. ACS CAN is working with federal and state lawmakers to ensure all FDA-approved cessation medications and counseling are covered in Medicaid and to adequately fund tobacco control programs.

The evidence that menthol is a serious public health threat is overwhelming. The research on youth use of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars is well documented. Big Tobacco’s use of both to target Black communities and youth to addict them to products that are the top contributor to the leading cancer killer, lung cancer, must be stopped.

FDA’s announcement to prohibit menthol flavors in cigarettes and all flavors in cigars is a step in the right direction. ACS CAN will continue to work with federal, state and local lawmakers to remove all flavors from all tobacco products and increase access to proven cessation services to help lessen health disparities and reduce suffering and death from cancer.

Lisa Lacasse is president of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. She wrote this for