Menthol Cigarette Investigation to be Conducted by FDA

A menthol cigarette independent review is part of the Food and Drug Administration’s latest investigation into the public health impact of cigarettes.

The FDA said Monday that members of its Center for Tobacco Products will gather menthol studies and then submit its review to an external peer review panel next month. The cycle should be completed by fall of 2011, at which point the results of the review will be available for public comment.

The investigation is motivated by a report from the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, who noted that the minty flavoring of menthols has led to an increase in smokers, particularly among teens, African Americans, and those with low incomes. The report also noted that while menthol cigarettes are harder to quit, smokers that choose menthol are not likely to be at a higher risk of disease or exposed to a greater number of toxins.

A ban or other restriction on the sale of flavored cigarettes would have the most impact on Lorillard Inc., whose Newport brand is the highest-selling menthol cigarette in the United States, with roughly 35 percent of the market.

Menthol cigarettes are one of the few growth areas in a shrinking cigarette market: the percentage of smokers using menthol brands grew from 31 percent in 2004 to 33.9 percent in 2008, according to a study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, with the largest growth among younger smokers.

A tobacco industry report to the FDA conceded that all cigarettes are dangerous but says there’s no scientific basis for regulating menthols differently.

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