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FDA Hears Mixed Opinions on Menthol Cigarettes

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Some health officials told a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel that adding menthol to cigarettes could make smoking easier and more addictive, an opinion challenged by representatives of the tobacco industry.

Reuters reported March 30 that the FDA's new tobacco advisory panel took testimony on menthol cigarettes as part of its first public hearing. The panel is slated to make recommendations on regulating menthol by March 2011.

FDA researcher Joshua Rising said that new smokers are more likely to use menthol cigarettes — possibly because menthol is a mild anesthetic that masks the harshness of inhaling tobacco smoke — but added that research does not show an association between smoking menthols and earlier initiation of smoking.

Options on the table for FDA include banning menthol outright, phasing out the flavoring over time, or adding stronger warning label to packs of menthol cigarettes.

Lorillard, the maker of Newport menthols, has a nonvoting representative on the FDA review panel and denies that menthol cigarettes are any more harmful than other cigarettes.

Lorillard said in a statement there was no evidence menthol cigarettes were more addictive or harmful than others. “The science is clear and compelling that there is no differing health risk between menthol and non-menthol products,” said Lorillard Senior Vice President Bill True.

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