The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is likely to publish proposed rules to ban menthol cigarettes on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The proposed ban, which would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars, will not take effect for at least two years, according to the WSJ report.

The FDA did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

The agency could publish final rules as early as 2023 and the ban could be set to take effect in 2024, the newspaper report said.

For decades, menthol cigarettes have been in the crosshairs of anti-smoking groups who have argued that they contribute to disproportionate health burdens on Black communities and play a role in luring young people into smoking.

The proposal, which comes a year after the agency announced the plan, is likely to face stiff opposition from the tobacco industry.

The WSJ report said at least one tobacco company has indicated that it might sue, which could further delay the ban.

Menthol cigarettes, banned in many states including California and Massachusetts, account for more than a third of the industry's overall market share in the United States, even as overall smoking rates have been declining in the country.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Arun Koyyur)