RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More than 16 percent of North Carolina adults smoke cigarettes.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration wants to ban the manufacturing of menthol cigarettes, as well as prohibit all flavored cigars, in an effort to cut down on tobacco-related deaths nationwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 480,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year.

Dr. Joseph McClernon, the Founder of the Duke Center for Addiction Science and Technology, calls that number “unacceptable.”

“Can you imagine us standing for that with any other product?” McClernon said.

The FDA said menthol makes it harder to quit smoking.

McClernon agreed, saying that doing away with the flavor will make more people re-evaluate the addicting habit.

“When you change that positive equation, when you make a product like a cigarette more harsh, you’re going to have smokers who are going to quit,” McClernon said.

Browne Lewis, the Dean of North Carolina Central University School of Law, said menthols disproportionately affect minority communities.

The FDA reports that out of all black smokers, 85 percent smoke menthol cigarettes.

“Your objective is to reduce the number of African-American and Latinos in this country that are dying of cancers related to cigarette smoking, particular menthol cigarettes,” Lewis said. “Public health to me is not just being reactive, it’s being proactive. In this case, I think they’re being proactive.”

She continued, “Why wait until there’s an epidemic on the other side, that there’s so many people dying of cancer that the system is being taxed?”

But not everyone agrees with the FDA proposal.

The parent company for North Carolina based tobacco manufacturer, Reynolds, released this statement Thursday that reads, in part:

“We strongly believe that there are more effective routes to deliver Tobacco Harm Reduction than banning menthol in cigarettes. Evidence from other markets, including Canada and the EU where similar bans have been imposed, demonstrates little impact on overall cigarette consumption.

“The scientific evidence shows no difference in the health risks associated with menthol cigarettes compared to non-menthol cigarettes, nor does it support that menthol cigarettes adversely affect initiation, dependence or cessation. As a result, we do not believe the published science supports regulating menthol cigarettes differently from non-menthol cigarettes.

“The FDA rulemaking process is a multiyear, multistep process. We are reviewing the details of the proposed regulations and will continue to actively participate in the rulemaking process by submitting science-based comments to FDA.”

  • Kingsley Wheaton, CMO of BAT Group (parent company of Reynolds)