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Leading Critic of Menthol Cigarettes Resigns from FDA Advisory Committee

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Gregory N. Connolly, a professor of public health at Harvard, has resigned from a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee that will soon make recommendations on whether to ban menthol in cigarettes, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 5.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee was created last year to advise the FDA after Congress passed landmark legislation in 2009 that gave the agency the authority to regulate tobacco. The committee is set to release a report in March on whether the FDA should ban menthol cigarettes, which make up 30 percent of industry sales. Menthol cigarettes make up 90 percent of sales for Lorillard Inc., which manufactures the Newport brand.  

Connolly, a tobacco researcher and Harvard professor, was one of four panel members Philip Morris USA tried to remove from the committee last year. The company objected to Connolly because he had testified against the tobacco industry in lawsuits and made “highly inflammatory statements to the media” about menthol cigarettes. 

Connolly said, “I didn't have as many friends as one would like” in the FDA, but denied that his resignation was related to industry pressure. He cited “personal reasons” and said that he could be “more effective off the committee than on it.” According to The Wall Street Journal, he said “that he now will be better able to help 'FDA get the science right' on menthol and other tobacco issues.”

An FDA spokesman said that Connolly's “departure will not impede the schedule or progress” of the committee. The committee may recommend banning menthol flavoring in cigarettes, or it may take a softer stance instead, such as suggesting limits on advertising. The FDA does not have to follow the committee's recommendations and has no deadline to reach a decision. 

David Adelman, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, concluded that Connolly's departure made it less likely that the FDA would ban menthol as an additive for cigarettes. His resignation, Adelman wrote, “removes an individual who was the dominant anti-tobacco voice in the menthol hearings so far.”

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