FDA Ruling on Menthol Cigarettes Still Pending

fda_ruling_menthol_cigarettesThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just released a scientific review concerning menthol-, or mint-, flavored cigarettes, seen as a move closer to its making a ruling on the controversial products.

The agency also sought public comment on “potential regulation” of menthol-flavored cigarettes, according to The New York Times. Congress exempted menthol flavoring from a ban on flavors in cigarettes in 2009, which meant that it was up to the agency to determine if use of menthol flavoring in cigarettes presented a public health danger, the Times explained.

Menthol-flavored cigarettes comprise some one-third of all cigarettes sold nationwide and are very popular among black smokers, according to the Times. In fact, four out of five people who smoke mentholated cigarettes are black and menthol smoking rates in young people are mounting.

The announcement, although pleasing to cigarette opponents, is just one step in an ongoing regulatory process.

Still, the action was only an intermediate step in what advocates say has been a prolonged regulatory course. “This is either a way to take the heat off, or the beginning of a meaningful process,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group, told the Times. “That’s the book the jury is still out on.”

Lorillard, the nation’s largest menthol cigarette maker. issued a statement saying that “the best available science demonstrates that menthol cigarettes have the same health effects as non-menthol cigarettes and should be treated no differently.” The Times pointed out that while the FDA review did not reveal an increase in disease risk between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes, the agency did discover that the mint flavoring had other effects, including that it made people likelier to begin smoking, it decreased quitting rates, and it created greater nicotine dependence. As we’ve previously explained, health advocates claim that the menthol flavoring minimizes the tobacco’s roughness, making menthol-flavored cigarettes an easier option for beginner smokers.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, is linked to some 443,000 fatalities and $100 billion in healthcare costs annually, and kills some 1,200 Americans every day.

We have long written that second-hand smoke has been linked to a variety of health issues; contains over 4,000 substances, including over 50 known or suspected carcinogens. Second-hand smoke is also linked to many diseases in adults and children, such as sudden infant death syndrome; acute respiratory infections; middle ear disease; asthma; coronary heart disease; lung and sinus cancers; sinus problems; mental problems; and hearing loss; and increased risks for stillbirths and giving birth to infants with birth defects in pregnant women.
Smoking has also been linked to colorectal cancer, creating damage in the body just minutes after inhaling for the first time, increasing risks for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and significantly increasing arterial stiffness in people as young as 18 to 30.

In 2009, legislation passed enabling the FDA to make decisions concerning tobacco products, including cigarettes. As a result, the agency banned some flavored cigarettes, such as fruit and chocolate. The legislation asked the FDA to enlist an external panel to look at menthol cigarette health risks before making a determination to ban the products.

Meanwhile, the United States has until today to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that the American ban on clove cigarettes, also under the 2009 legislation, was in violation of Indonesia’s trade rights if the U.S. continued to permit sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes, the Times pointed out. Indonesia, which makes clove cigarettes, brought the lawsuit. The U.S. argued that the risks between menthol and clove differ; however, the World Trade Organization rejected the argument, according to the Times.

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