Menthol makes it easier to keep smoking

WASHINGTON Adding menthol to cigarettes may increase the likelihood of addiction and make it easier for young people to start smoking, according to preliminary findings of a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel considering whether to recommend a ban or otherwise restrict menthol cigarettes.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee said the scientific evidence showed that “menthol has cooling and anesthetic effects that reduce that harshness of cigarette smoke” and this reduction “could facilitate initiation or early persistence of smoking by youth.”

People smoke outside a nightclub in Madrid, Spain, early Sunday, heeding a new indoor smoking ban there.

People smoke outside a nightclub in Madrid, Spain, early Sunday, heeding a new indoor smoking ban there.

The committee also said menthol is likely to make low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes more satisfying, “and smokers who switch to low-yield cigarettes for health concerns may be more likely to continue to smoke rather than quit.”

The FDA has banned candy, fruit and spice flavorings in cigarettes because of their potential to lure young smokers. But the 2009 law that gave the agency regulatory authority over cigarettes said menthol should be evaluated separately.

On the question of whether menthol smokers are at greater risk of contracting tobacco-caused diseases than smokers of non-menthol cigarettes, the advisory group said the evidence is inconclusive.

“There are no surprises here,” Michael Siegel, an expert on smoking’s public health effects and a professor at Boston University, said by e-mail. “There is no evidence that menthol cigarettes are more harmful, so if that is your criterion, then a ban on menthol is not supported.

“However, menthol clearly masks the harshness of cigarette smoking, so if you look at this from a marketing perspective, yes, of course menthol contributes to increased cigarette sales.”

Mentholated brands make up about 30 percent of the cigarette market and are favored by about 80 percent of black smokers, who also suffer from disproportionately high rates of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

The preliminary findings were contained in draft chapters of a forthcoming report by the 12-member committee and were posted on the FDA website ahead of a panel meeting scheduled for today.

The final report is due by March 23. Its recommendations are nonbinding.

Many analysts – including some anti-smoking advocates – expect the agency to stop short of imposing a total ban on menthol.

One of the three major U.S. tobacco companies, Lorillard Inc., depends on a menthol brand, Newport, for about 90 percent of its revenue.

Last week, Lorillard and a second tobacco firm, RJ Reynolds, sued the FDA to block the expert panel’s recommendations.

source: The Associated Press

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