As legislation allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to regulate tobacco products clears Congress, some tobacco experts are focusing on the potential for the agency to use its new powers to ban menthol cigarettes, Reuters reported June 17.
The legislation passed by Congress bans flavorings like chocolate and cherry, but excludes menthol-flavored cigarettes from the ban. The legislation, which is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature, calls for the FDA to examine the medical effects and marketing of menthol cigarettes and their impact on blacks, Hispanics, and other groups, with a report due back in 18 months.
Based on these considerations, the FDA could either ban menthol cigarettes completely, order them to be phased out, or not take action.
Roughly 12 million Americans smoke menthol cigarettes, including 75 percent of African American smokers. “We don't know what the public response would have been to banning a product so many people are addicted to. Do they switch to another product? Get it another way?” said Paul Billings of the American Lung Association.
“I am pessimistic that menthol will be banned,” said Joel Nitzkin, chair of the American Association of Public Health Physicians Tobacco Control Task Force. Nitzkin opposed the FDA bill.
Lorillard, the leading menthol cigarette manufacturer, is concerned about a potential menthol ban. “We hope the FDA will solicit and consider input and comments from industry participants,” said Lorillard spokesman Michael Robinson.