FDA Mulling Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

With their enticing cool and minty flavor, menthol cigarettes have emerged as one of the most controversial products made by the tobacco industry.

Kids are particularly drawn to them, with nearly 45 percent of smokers aged 12 to 17 using menthol cigarettes, according to a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most black teenaged smokers — and 82.7 percent of black adult smokers — favor menthols, the same survey found.

“The manufacturers would have you believe there is not a scintilla of evidence that menthol is no more dangerous than other cigarettes to the individual smoker, but we do not agree,” said Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the American Legacy Foundation, a smoking prevention and cessation organization in Washington, D.C., founded with funding from the landmark Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and state governments. “Over 80 percent of African-American smokers smoke menthol, and African-America smokers have the highest rates of lung cancer. We also know African-Americans with lung cancer are more likely to die from lung cancer.”

In addition, the popularity of menthols among younger, newer smokers suggests that maybe the minty taste does encourage people to start, perhaps by masking the harsh taste of regular cigarettes, she added.

“We know the younger you are and the newer the smoker you are, the more likely you are to smoke menthol,” said Vargyas. “There is a very strong correlation between being a teenaged smoker and menthol cigarettes.”

That’s no coincidence, say smoking opponents: The tobacco industry has long targeted youth and minorities for menthol cigarette marketing, even manipulating menthol content in different brands in an effort to recruit new smokers among youth, according to the National Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The debate over how menthols should be regulated lit up again last month, during the second round of hearings held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.

The advisory committee was established by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in June 2009. The legislation gave the FDA unprecedented power to restrict the marketing of tobacco products.

While the law bans cigarette makers from adding candy or fruit-like flavors such as clove, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa or strawberry to cigarettes, legislators hedged when it came to menthols, the most popular flavoring by far.

Although menthol was not banned from cigarettes, the law stressed that nothing prevented it from regulating menthol as well. In fact, the act required the FDA advisory committee to consider menthol cigarettes impact on public health — including its use among children and minorities- as its first order of business.

During the first round of hearings in March, the advisory committee sought answers about the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, whether they are more harmful than regular cigarettes and whether the flavor encourages kids in particular to take up smoking.

Anti-smoking advocates say there is no evidence that menthols — which account for an estimated 33.9 percent of the U.S. cigarette market — are less deadly than any other cigarette. Research from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in fact, suggests that they are more addictive, making it harder for smokers to quit, particularly blacks and Latinos.

During the hearings, tobacco industry representatives defended their products, saying menthols are no more harmful than other cigarettes and should not be singled out for a ban.

“We don’t think there is any evidence or even any suggestion that youth would choose not to smoke if menthol products weren’t available,” said Bill True, senior vice president of research and development for Lorillard Tobacco Co., the makers of Newport’s. “Kids don’t smoke because there are menthol cigarettes. Kids smoke for a variety of reasons which are probably quite complex.”

“Cigarettes do pose significant dangers to an individual’s health,” True added. “In dealing with regulating the product, we believe the FDA should be looking at those things that are the most significant.”

On that point, anti-smoking advocates agree. Cigarettes are by their very nature a deadly product, and legislation to sharply regulate their manufacture, sale and marketing can’t come a moment too soon, said Vargyas.

Mitch Zeller, vice president for policy and strategic communications at Pinney Associates in Washington, D.C. and the director of the FDA’s Office of Tobacco Programs during the Clinton Administration, noted that there were some limitations to the family smoking prevention laws reach. While the FDA has far more power over the industry than before, it cannot ban all cigarettes outright, nor can it force cigarette companies to reduce nicotine levels to zero, he said.

However, he said, the legislation requires tobacco companies to disclose comprehensive information about the contents and manufacturing process for tobacco products. The tobacco companies, he added, have been less than forthcoming with their data about the marketing and manufacture of menthols.

“The industry presentation on the issues that matter the most — those related to marketing that influences kids and any issue related to the initiation of smoking — was non-responsive,” Zeller said. “The advisory committee is in need of more information to do its job.”

The FDA advisory committee has nine members and includes physicians, scientists and public health experts; the tobacco industry is represented by three non-voting members. The committee has until March 2011 to report its menthol findings to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

More information

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has more on menthol cigarettes.

SOURCES: Bill True, senior vice president, research and development, Lorillard Tobacco Co., Greensboro, N.C.; Mitch Zeller, J.D., vice president, policy and strategic communications, Pinney Associates, Washington, D.C.; Ellen Vargyas, J.D., general counsel, American Legacy Foundation, Washington, D.C.; HR 1256: Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; National Cancer Institute, Tobacco Control Research Brand, Research Topics: Menthols and Tobacco; Harvard School of Public Health.; Palm Beach Post, June 28, 2010; International Journal of Clinical Practice, 2009.

4 Responses to FDA Mulling Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

  1. Debbie Ferkingstad

    This is crazy!! Banning only menthol cigarettes? When will us smokers get to keep some freedom? Instead of having them all taken away? We are adults and able to make decisions for ourselves. Government needs to worry about more important things!! This is so unbelievable!!!

  2. This is ridiculous, just because parents cannot keep a closer eye on their children does not mean that adults need to be punished by taking away their favorite brand/flavor of cigarette. This ban is just the begining of taking away the entire freedom of smoking in general. America is supposed to be a free country, well taking away something as a flavor of cigarette is only a spark to taking away cigarettes in general. If this ban is passed there will be more to come…. Also, there are many things that cause cancer that are far worse than “menthol cigarettes”. And whaever happen to worrying about americans whom are homeless and starving and freezing to death, those are just small thing that need to be worked on compared to cigarettes.

  3. I’m sorry but when did some organization in DC begin deciding for the american people. When did the government forget the words “For the people, By the people” Who has the right to tell me that I can or can not smoke, not a damn person! If True, doesn’t pull thier heads out of thier asses and let people decide for themselves how they would like to, in a definate way, kill them selves, then we might as well be living in the broken down country Sarah Palin can see from her back porch… It’s organizations full of crack pots like TRUE, and the US government that make it so parents, are not allowed to discipline their children in any way shape or form. These are organizations that recieve tax payers money in the form or grants to run their ads on television, I mean isnt it bad enough that I watch this crap… how about True doing a study or ad on how middle america is getting screwed by this recession, or put that money into a community that is suffering from from housing forclosures? But i guess that would be leaving a more positive mark on society, and that wouldnt pay thier bills…

  4. Hi ppl, Im just another nobody!However I am a smoker… A Menthol smoker for the past 21years,My mum put me onto menthol when I started smoking as her mother had done for her.
    My mother passed away on the 26th of November 2010 from non-small cell lung cancer yes caused from smoking, it was horrific the cancer has spread everywhere she had only been diagnosed on the 2nd of November 2010, she had smoked Menthol cigarettes for 40 years and died aged 66. My Grand mother passed away aged 42 years also from lung cancer having smoked menthol cigarettes, one of my husbands best mates lost his mum from lung cancer 10 years ago and just recently since I lost my mum I asked him what his mum smoked he said Menthol like you! Now this really has me thinking that more studies should perhaps be done, I have found these statistics very unfavorable for my health not that I care ATM. Cigarettes have more nasty chemicals in them than any illegal drug whats with that and yet they are continually supplied to ppl, Remember if your reading this YES I AM A SMOKER a heavy smoker. They are dirty addictive filthy things which should be banned all together, perhaps the goverments should look at putting happier more harmless drugs on the market instead!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Click to hear an audio file of the anti-spam word