Commentary: Let’s Keep Menthol From Luring Our Kids to an Early Grave
Do you remember the first time you tried a cigarette? If you’re lucky, the unpleasant taste and burning feeling in your throat and lungs dissuaded you from repeating the experience.
If your middle school student picks up a menthol cigarette today, the minty flavor will help mask the harsh taste of tobacco. The menthol will also soothe and cool her throat, making it that much easier for her to pick up her next smoke.
This is not just idle speculation from a worried parent. Several large national surveys have shown that a majority of new smokers choose menthols. In fact, youth and young adults have the highest rates of menthol cigarette smoking. Female smokers are more likely to use menthol cigarettes than their male peers. Menthols are also smoked disproportionately by minority youth, with more than 80 percent of black teen smokers choosing menthols. In fact, a new report released this week by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) found that menthol likely increases smoking initiation and progression from experimentation to regular smoking.
The impact of menthol cigarettes on young smokers is alarming, particularly when one considers the health consequences of a lifetime of smoking—harm to almost every organ in the body and a vastly increased risk of lung disease, heart disease, infertility, and cancer of the bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidney, lung, mouth, pancreas, stomach and throat. Between one-third and one-half of lifetime smokers will die from smoking-related disease, with their lifetimes shortened by at least 10 years.
These are terrifying statistics for any parent. And it gets worse. Menthol not only makes smoking easier for our kids to start, but the FDA report says that it likely makes it harder for them to quit. The report also found that menthol smokers likely have higher levels of nicotine dependence than non-menthol smokers, which may be part of the reason for reduced quit success.
Sometimes it seems impossible to protect our kids from all the dangers that lurk in the world. But there is one easy step we can take as a nation to help protect them from the dangers of smoking: forbid tobacco companies from adding the minty taste of menthol to their deadly products.
The FDA has the power to take this step. Legacy has been urging the agency to do so since 2009, when Congress first gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products. Two years ago, an FDA advisory committee composed of scientific experts found that removing menthols from the marketplace would improve the public health of the United States. But the FDA said it wanted to conduct another internal review of the evidence on menthol. This latest report is the result of that review. And the message could not be more clear: banning menthols from the marketplace could save hundreds of thousands of American lives.
Now that two reports have concluded that menthols are a starter product for youth and make it harder for them to quit, the FDA needs to find the political will to act. There is no time to waste. Our kids’ lives are at stake.
Chief Operating Officer