Menthol Cigarettes Face FDA Scrutiny

Although a complete ban on <"">menthol cigarettes is not expected at this time, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel is scheduled to look at the issue and the ways in which government in the United States should regulate the cigarettes, said The Associated Press (AP).

Late last year we wrote that the FDA announced a ban—authorized by the then-emerging Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act—on cigarettes that contain fruit, candy, or clove flavoring. The Act is part of a national effort by the FDA to reduce smoking in America.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, with cigarettes linked to some 443,000 deaths and $100 billion spent in healthcare costs annually. A prior AP report noted that over 126 million nonsmokers in this country are exposed to tobacco smoke on an ongoing basis and, in 2006, the Surgeon General announced that “overwhelming scientific evidence” was associated with tens of thousands of fatalities from cardiac disease, lung cancer, and other deadly diseases due to second- and third-hand smoke.

The 12-person FDA panel will meet today and tomorrow and will look at research conducted on the “public health effects” of mentholated cigarettes, specifically concerning children and some ethnic groups, said the AP; recommendations are expected by March 2011. The panel, which includes three nonvoting individuals who represent industry, will later look at some smokeless tobacco products and changes in product types as well as product standards, explained the AP. Dr. Jonathan Samet, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health and former director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University is the panel chair, the AP noted.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, reported the AP, the focus is to limit deaths from tobacco use. “This is the first time that all of the science will be brought together looking at whether menthol increases the number of users, makes it hard to quit, has a disproportionate harmful effect on certain people, and, if the answer to any of those questions is yes, what is the best thing to do about menthol to reduce the number of people who are harmed?” Myers said, quoted the AP.

Most recently, the FDA—in its ongoing fight against cigarette smoking and tobacco products—ordered cigarette makers to reveal what they put in their products, the AP previously reported. Effective in June, and for the first time, cigarette companies must advise the agency of cigarette formulas, said the AP, noting that this is similar to what drug makers have been doing for years. Cigarette makers must also provide the FDA with any studies the firms have conducted on the ingredients used in the manufacture of cigarettes, said the AP.

Manufacturers have admitted to using ingredients such as cocoa, coffee, and menthol, to name a few, said the AP, to improve the taste of cigarettes; however, other ingredients, which have not been disclosed, could make cigarettes more dangerous, even more addictive, said the AP.

The agency feels the new disclosures will better enable it to create standards for such products and also ensure the banning of some ingredients or ingredient combinations, explained the AP. “Tobacco products today are really the only human-consumed product that we don’t know what’s in them,” Lawrence R. Deyton, a physician and the director of the FDA’s new Center for Tobacco Products told the AP. Of note, cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain over 4,000 chemicals with over 60 of those chemicals known to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

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