A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel is examining menthol cigarettes and how the government should regulate them, although most believe an outright ban is unlikely, the Associated Press reported.
The committee is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the scientific research on the public health effects of menthol cigarettes, including among children and certain ethnic groups. The panel plans to make recommendations by next March.
“This is the first time that all of the science will be brought together looking at whether menthol increases the number of users, makes it hard to quit, has a disproportionate harmful effect on certain people, and, if the answer to any of those questions is yes, what is the best thing to do about menthol to reduce the number of people who are harmed?” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The committee is made up of 12 members, including three nonvoting members representing the tobacco industry and is chaired by Dr. Jonathan Samet, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health and former director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to reviewing menthol cigarettes, the committee also is expected to later study dissolvable tobacco products as well as product changes and standards, the Associated Press reported.
Smokers of menthol cigarettes increased from 31% in 2004 to 33.9% in 2008, with more pronounced increases among young smokers, according to a study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in November. Still experts agreed a ban on menthol is unlikely.
“Tobacco researchers still do not see conclusive evidence in existing literature that would warrant a ban of menthol and we think the tax, job and illicit trade implications would be too serious for the FDA to take this drastic step,” Credit Suisse analyst Thilo Wrede wrote in a note to investors.
“The weight of the scientific evidence does not support a conclusion that menthol cigarettes convert greater health risk than non-menthol cigarettes,” Lorillard CEO Martin Orlowsky said in a conference call last month. Orlowsky also warned that a ban could lead to a black market.
The FDA could order a reduction of menthol levels, bigger or more descriptive warning labels or higher mandated prices for menthol cigarettes.