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FDA Issues Data on Menthol Cigarettes — Ban or Regulations Possible

Jul 24, 2013

Federal health officials could soon decide whether stronger regulations need to be enacted on menthol cigarettes, including a possible ban.

According to a New York Times report this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is closer to a decision on whether to ban, restrict, or allow menthol cigarettes on the market. The agency has been under increased pressure in the past five years to move on menthol cigarettes after numerous studies said they were more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.

Anti-smoking advocates say that menthol cigarettes are more appealing to younger smokers, and that over time more young people have begun smoking menthol cigarettes than any other kind. Further, menthol cigarettes are harder to quit, according to the New York Times report.

Many are calling on the FDA to ban menthol from cigarettes in the same way that terms like “Light” were banished from the labels of cigarette packs in the past few years. Currently, the FDA has opened a 60-day window for public comment on a move the agency made this week. The New York Times reports that the FDA released data from a scientific review on menthol cigarettes that showed they were easier to smoke for new smokers and harder to quit, as well. The agency is opening the comment period to the public to submit their comments on that information and what the agency should do next.

The FDA was previously given an option on menthol cigarettes in 2009, when Congress passed laws that banned the use of terms like “Light” and “Ultra Light” from cigarette packaging. At the time, Congress opted not to include menthol cigarettes as part of that law, the New York Times reports. Two years later, a Congressional committee ruled that menthol cigarettes were a threat to public health, but the FDA balked at taking any action.

The director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products told the New York Times that he did not expect an outright ban on menthol cigarettes in the near future.

Health and anti-smoking advocates point to data that shows menthol cigarettes are targeted and more appealing to younger smokers. Another study cited by the New York Times report shows that four of every five black smokers in the U.S. prefer a menthol over non-menthol. The tobacco industry, of course, opposes any regulation against menthol cigarettes, specifically, and a spokesperson for Lorillard said that menthol cigarettes are no different than non-menthol varieties in regard to health concerns.

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