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FDA: Menthol smokes worse than regular cigarettes

By Michael Felberbaum

AP Tobacco Writer

LAST UPDATED: 07:30 p.m. HST, Jul 23, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. >> A Food and Drug Administration review concludes that menthol cigarettes likely pose a greater public health risk than regular cigarettes but does not make a recommendation on whether to limit or ban the minty smokes — one of the few growth sectors of the shrinking cigarette business.

The federal agency released the independent review on Tuesday and is seeking input from the health community, the tobacco industry and others on possible restrictions on the mint-flavored cigarettes.

The FDA evaluation concluded that there is little evidence to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more or less toxic or contribute to more disease risk to smokers than regular cigarettes. However, there is adequate data to suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by younger people and that menthol smokers have a harder time quitting, the review said.

There's also evidence indicating that menthol's cooling properties can reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and that menthol cigarettes are marketed as a smoother alternative, the review said.

"Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions," Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products, said in a conference call with reporters.

Zeller said there's "no holdup" on the FDA proposing restrictions on menthol but that there are still "some important questions" that need to be answered. The agency is commissioning further research.

A 2011 FDA advisory panel report, which was mandated under the 2009 law giving the agency the authority to regulate tobacco, made many of the same findings, and said that removing menthol cigarettes from the market would benefit public health and highlighted greater use among minorities, teenagers and low-income people. Panels like the tobacco committee advise the FDA on scientific issues. The agency doesn't have to follow its recommendations, but often does.

Meanwhile, a tobacco industry report to the FDA acknowledged that all cigarettes are hazardous but said there's no scientific basis for regulating menthols differently. The industry also has raised concerns that restrictions on menthol would lead to a black market for the cigarettes.

Menthol cigarettes are one of the few growth areas in a shrinking cigarette market. The percentage of U.S. cigarette smokers using menthol brands grew from 33.9 percent in 2008 to 37.5 percent in 2011, according to a study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, with more significant growth among younger smokers.

The FDA is "simply kicking the can down the road," Joseph Califano Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter, and Louis Sullivan, former Health and Human Services Secretary for President George H.W. Bush, said in a joint statement. Along with other public health advocates Tuesday, they urged the agency to ban menthol cigarettes. "The failure of this administration to act undermines the public health and is particularly harmful to vulnerable young Americans and African-Americans," they said.

A menthol ban or other restriction on the flavored cigarettes would fall heavily on Lorillard Inc., whose Newport brand is the top-selling menthol cigarette in the U.S., with nearly 38 percent of the market. Lorillard, based in Greensboro, N.C., is the country's third-largest tobacco company.

CEO Murray Kessler said in a statement that Lorillard looks forward to participating in the regulatory process and reiterated its long-held belief that menthol cigarettes shouldn't be treated differently.

The move comes ahead of a Wednesday deadline for the U.S. to respond to the World Trade Organization's findings last year that the FDA's ban on manufacturing, importing, marketing and distributing candy-, fruit- and clove-flavored tobacco breaks trade rules because it exempts menthol cigarettes, most of which are made in the U.S.. The investigation was launched following a request from Indonesia, which claims more than 6 million of its people depend on the production of clove cigarettes — a staple of the country's smoking culture.

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Anonymous wrote:
Ban them all together.
on July 23,2013 | 07:48PM
tiwtsfm wrote:
Yup. They are all bad.
on July 24,2013 | 06:08AM
mikethenovice wrote:
There is no correct way to use a cigarette.
on July 24,2013 | 03:27AM
RetiredWorking wrote:
I smoked cigarettes from 1964-1969. LOVED Kools and Salem menthols! In Viet Nam, I've seen a 5yo boy smoking a Salem like a pro. Sad.
on July 24,2013 | 07:02AM
Jerry_D wrote:
That's how the big tobacco industries expand their international markets -- get the kids from third world and developing countries addicted, since there are limited or no laws there to prohibit it. Cigarettes are a lot cheaper overseas, too, since there are no "sin tax" or other tariffs applied (carton of smokes at Seoul Inchon Airport, for example, is $18 -- and that's AIRPORT prices. Even cheaper in China.). Fact of the matter is, human beings always have and always will look for ways to artificially heighten our emotionally well-being (and, yes, smoking cigarettes does relieve stress to a certain degree). Some people drink alcohol, some people smoke cigarettes, some people do other things...but the vast majority of us intake *something* or another. We've been doing this ever since Ooog the Caveman first chewed on that tasty root, and it took him to a "better place". If cigarettes were banned altogether, then it will just be replaced by something else. The question then becomes....what is a safer alternative that should be legalized?
on July 24,2013 | 08:40AM
honopic wrote:
As a fellow vet, I know what you mean. Most people who were in service in the 60s and early 70s smoked. If they didn't when they went to boot camp, they likely did by the time they got out. "Smoke breaks" were one of the first privileges they got, and at 15c a pack, it was hard to resist. Add that to being in a combat zone, and the "risk" from smoking was far outweighed by the risk of surviving through another day. Yes, it was sad to see little kids smoking, but American cigarettes were prized possessions, and could be bartered for all kinds of "services." Those kids were also in constant danger, so smoking was the least of their worries.
on July 24,2013 | 03:15PM
KeithHaugen wrote:
I recall switching to menthol cigarettes because I was led to believe they were less dangerous. That was before I got smart and quit smoking, period, in December 1965. Don't miss it at all, and can't understand why anyone with an ounce of intelligence smokes. I understand that some people are more addicted than others, but they too can get help.
on July 24,2013 | 07:35AM
Jerry_D wrote:
I can understand when a non-smoker insults smokers the way you just did. After all, non-smokers have never been addicted; therefore, their remarks are purely due to ignorance. On the other hand, for a former addict such as yourself to take the soapbox with "I can't understand why anyone with an ounce of intelligence smokes"....well, that just makes you a hypocrite. I'm a former smoker of 16 years -- I quit smoking 15 years ago (but I consider myself a lifelong addict...we ALL are, including you). Yet you will never hear me demean anybody who smokes cigarettes. Quitting cigarettes is said to be tougher than quitting heroine -- therefore, lifelong addicts such as you and I can be a little more compassionate towards those who know smoking is deadly but just don't have the mental and physical strength yet to quit.
on July 24,2013 | 08:29AM
Jerry_D wrote:
If ya gotta smoke, smoke American Spirits non-menthol. All natural -- no chemicals added (unlike commercial cigarettes).
on July 24,2013 | 08:22AM
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