FDA Considers Cracking Down on Menthol Cigarettes

Menthol cigarettes have long been blamed for seducing people into smoking who otherwise might resist. Now, the FDA is considering imposing restrictions on menthol smokes because the ease of addiction and the difficulty of quitting menthol smokes make them more dangerous than regular cigarettes.

In issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) last month, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said, “Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions. The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward.”

The warning indicated that menthol cigarettes might be more addictive than regular cigarettes. The results of the inquiry could enable the feds to limit, ban or impose certain restrictions on menthols.

Smoking, of course, is a widespread health scourge that affects not only users but people in their midst. A history of scummy behavior by tobacco companies to keep their potentially fatal products on the market has made smoking eradication an uphill fight-see our blogs, “Tobacco Industry Manipulates Study Results” and “Smoking Still Kills and Tobacco Companies Still Fight the Truth.”

The FDA has released its scientific report, “Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes” for public comment, as well as studies about the role of menthol cigarettes in getting people to start smoking, becoming addicted and efforts to stop.

Although it found that menthols were more addictive than regular cigarettes, it didn’t find that they’re more toxic. But they do make it easier to start smoking, and often more difficult to quit.

The ANPRM says that smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., where about 3 in 10 adult smokers and more than 4 in 10 youthful smokers report using menthol cigarettes. According to AboutLawsuits.com, teenagers, minorities and low-income smokers are disproportionate users of menthol cigarettes.

Although the overall incidence of smoking has decreased in recent years, the market for menthol cigarettes is growing, says AboutLawsuits. They represented more than 1 in 3 cigarettes sold in 2008, and nearly 4 in 10 in 2011.

The FDA continues researching the differences between menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes in terms of their effect on smoking cessation and attempts to quit, as well as assessing the levels of menthol in certain cigarette brands. The agency is funding studies to examine if genetic differences in taste perceptions explain why certain racial and ethnic populations are more likely to use menthol cigarettes; to compare exposure to smoke-related toxins and carcinogens from menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes; and to examine the effects of menthol and nonmenthol compounds in various tobacco products on both tobacco addiction and toxins in tobacco smoke.

In 2009, the FDA exempted menthol from the ban on using flavors such as clove and candy in cigarettes. In 2012, the World Trade Organization said the U.S. must either ban menthol cigarettes or lift the ban against flavored cigarettes from other countries.

To learn more, see the FDA’s Web page about tobacco products.

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