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FDA maintains glacial pace on menthol

| July 24, 2013

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set the stage to restrict—or possibly ban—menthol cigarettes on the grounds that they are more appealing to new smokers, more addictive to longtime smokers and pose a greater threat to the public’s health than do unflavored cigarettes, according to a story by Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times.

In releasing a comprehensive review of research on menthol’s effects as a tobacco additive on Tuesday, the FDA conceded that adding peppermint oil extract to cigarettes probably didn’t make them more likely to cause diseases such as lung cancer and emphysema. But its 153-page report concluded that menthol in tobacco was linked to “altered physiological responses to tobacco smoke.” Those altered responses, in turn, might contribute to tobacco’s highly addictive qualities and drive up disease by sustaining smoking behavior.

Healy said that the release of the report opened a 60-day public comment period that could set the groundwork for new tobacco restrictions.

“[The] FDA’s actions today on menthol reflect our commitment to explore all potential options, including the establishment of product standards,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, was quoted as saying.

The FDA acknowledged that the weight of any changes it might order would disproportionately affect minority communities. Menthol cigarettes are the choice of nearly 75 percent of African American smokers and roughly 30 percent of Latino smokers. By contrast, just over 20 percent of non-Latino whites smoke menthol cigarettes.

The FDA said it would sponsor three new studies of menthol as a tobacco additive, one of which would explore whether genetic differences in taste perception might explain the striking patterns of menthol cigarette use.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Herzog, managing director of beverage, tobacco and convenience store research at Wells Fargo Securities, welcomed the fact that progress was being made on menthol.

Herzog said she believed it was unlikely that menthol would be banned, though she said it would probably be a long time until a final resolution of the issue came about.

But the view was very different from Legacy and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK).

“Two years ago, the FDA’s own scientific advisory committee found that removing menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States,” said David Dobbins, CEO at Legacy in a statement issued through PR Newswire. “The FDA does not need more information on this issue. It needs to remove menthols from the market.”

And Matthew L. Myers, president of CTFK, said, also in a statement issued through PR Newswire, that the FDA’s strong scientific conclusions regarding the harmful impact of menthol cigarettes on the nation’s health should prompt it to move as quickly as possible to ban menthol cigarettes in the U.S.

‘The FDA today [Tuesday] took the first step in the regulatory process by inviting public comment to inform its decisions about what action to take regarding menthol cigarettes and announcing that it is funding additional research relevant to regulating menthol cigarettes, the statement said. “It is critical that these actions be part of a serious and expeditious regulatory process that leads to a ban on menthol cigarettes and not part of an effort to delay action. The key is not what the FDA announced today, but how quickly the agency acts to develop a formal rule banning menthol cigarettes based on the powerful scientific evidence in the report it released today.”

Category: Breaking News

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