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FDA Advisors Recommend Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

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An expert panel advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended in a draft report that menthol cigarettes be outlawed to protect Americans' health, The Washington Post reported March 19.

The advisory panel – made up of scientists, physicians, and public health experts — found that putting menthol in cigarettes did not increase the individual risk of smoking-related health problems, such as strokes and lung cancer. About 400,000 people die of tobacco-related disease every year in the United States.

However, in its draft report (PDF), the panel found that menthol cigarettes increased “the likelihood of addiction and the degree of addiction in youth smokers,” and menthol in cigarettes made it harder for African American smokers to quit. Additionally, menthol cigarettes could make groups more likely to experiment with smoking and become regular smokers.

The panel found that advertising appeared to make youth, African Americans, and Hispanics more likely to smoke, although the same was not true for Asian Americans, Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, or women. Tobacco companies, the Post said, “have advertised menthol brands heavily in black communities and media.” Although African Americans smoke less than whites, they are more likely to suffer from tobacco-related disease.

Members of the panel have been reviewing the research on menthol cigarettes over the past year. They said that taking menthol cigarettes off the market could save thousands of American lives. Their final report is due to the FDA on March 23. The agency is not bound to follow its recommendations.

In a statement about the advisory panel's report, the FDA said that panel members who are representatives of tobacco companies will submit a separate “industry perspective document” to the agency on March 23. Menthol cigarettes make up about one-third of the $70 billion American cigarette market.

According to Lawrence R. Deyton, M.D., who directs the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, the agency's own experts will review the panel's recommendations. He wrote in published remarks that although the agency was not required to act within a specific timeline, the “FDA intends to provide its first progress report on the review of the science in approximately 90 days.”

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