Tobacco makers fight menthol rules

By Associated Press
March 18, 2011

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RICHMOND — Menthol cigarettes are no riskier than regular cigarettes and should not be regulated differently, the tobacco industry argues in a report to the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency is considering banning the minty cigarette flavoring. Many health experts say consumers think menthol offers health benefits, and that menthol cigarettes are disproportionately marketed to African-Americans.

The industry’s draft report acknowledges “all cigarettes are hazardous to health’’ and says there is no scientific basis to regulate menthols differently. The report concludes that menthol cigarettes don’t make it easier for people to start smoking or raise their risk of disease.

A panel advising the FDA is scheduled to discuss its final recommendations today.

The FDA won authority to regulate tobacco in 2009. It can’t ban nicotine or tobacco, but it can limit what goes into tobacco products, require the ingredients be publicized, and limit marketing, especially to young people.

Most specialists say a menthol ban is unlikely. But the advisory panel could suggest tightening restrictions, including cutting menthol levels or requiring bigger or more descriptive warning labels or higher prices.

Tobacco companies have asked a court to stop the FDA from relying on the advisory panel, claiming it’s biased.