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Head of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products Reviewing Risks of Menthol

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The new head of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, has begun to review the risks of menthol in cigarettes, according to Bloomberg. He is also considering whether to increase the FDA’s authority over e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

In addition, Zeller is evaluating tobacco industry requests for new product approvals, the article notes. “I know that all interested parties from industry to public health have been waiting for signs of public action,” Zeller said at a conference Wednesday. “I am keenly aware of the level of public frustration.”

In March 2011, an expert panel advising the FDA recommended in a draft report that menthol cigarettes be outlawed to protect Americans’ health. 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.

However, 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.

Zeller is known as a longtime critic of the tobacco industry. He is an attorney and a former official in the FDA’s Office of Tobacco Programs. He helped build the first nationwide program to reduce youth access to tobacco. From 2000 to 2002, he was an executive at the anti-smoking organization the American Legacy Foundation. He then joined consultants Pinney Associates, where he advised drug companies on smoking cessation products. Zeller has said the FDA has moved too slowly on making a ruling on menthol cigarettes and other issues related to tobacco.

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