FDA panel backs menthol cigarette ban

Washington Post / March 19, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Pulling menthol cigarettes from the shelves would benefit the health of Americans, an FDA advisory panel recommended in a long-awaited report yesterday.

The scientific advisory panel, made up of scientists, physicians, and public health experts, spent a year analyzing the impact of menthol cigarettes before releasing the draft recommendations to the FDA. The agency is not bound to follow the advice of its advisory panels, but it often does.

The panel found that menthol cigarettes do not pose greater individual risk to smokers in terms of lung cancer, stroke, and other tobacco-related diseases. The menthol cigarettes, however, are especially enticing to teenagers and are more likely to develop them into lifetime smokers, the panel found. And menthol has a similar impact on black smokers, the report said.

Removing menthol cigarettes from the marketplace could avert thousands of deaths each year, the panel said. About 400,000 Americans die annually of tobacco-related disease.

Menthol cigarettes account for about one-third of the $70 billion US cigarette market.

The panel found that tobacco companies have advertised menthol brands heavily in black communities and media.

Although blacks smoke fewer cigarettes compared with white smokers, they have higher rates of lung cancer, stroke, and other tobacco-related diseases.