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NAQC Newsroom: Tobacco Control

FDA Panel Concludes Removal Menthol Cigarrettes Would Benefit Public Health

Thursday, March 24, 2011  
Posted by: Natalia Gromov

NLTCN Contacts:
Jeannette Noltenius (202) 329-6045
John Aguilera (219) 670-4310
Jean A. Leroux (317) 472-1055

NAATPN Contact:
William Robinson (919) 680-4000
Kara Endsley (919) 680-4000

FDA Panel concludes that the removal of menthol cigarettes from the market is good for public health and it will save lives.

After several months of reviewing materials, accepting testimony and lengthy deliberations, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially released a report that stated that menthol cigarettes are harmful and that their removal "from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States". Menthol flavoring makes cigarette smoking more attractive for youth, its minty flavor encourages experimentation, and this in turn contributes to increases in the number of children who become adult smokers.

The National Latino Tobacco Control Network (NLTCN) welcomes this recommendation to the FDA and urges the FDA to ban the use of menthol in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Over 82% of the African American smokers use mentholated cigarettes as wellas 45% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 35% of multiracial populations, 37% Latino women, and 32% of Asian Americans. By withdrawing this product from the market, the FDA would be protecting the lives of people of color.

Dr. Jeannette Noltenius, National Director of NLTCN stated: "For our network of 2500 researchers, advocates and community based organizations working on tobacco control in Latino communities, the banning of menthol would give credence that the new Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA is concerned about protecting the lives of communities of color and is willing to stand up to the tobacco industry and make public health the unpinning of its work."

William S. Robinson, Executive Director of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN) said, "Our organization is pleased that the FDA's TPSAC has come to the same conclusion that we had nearly three years ago. As the first national organization to call for the removal of menthol from all tobacco in 2008, we already realized the role that menthol played in the initiation, continued addiction and difficulty in quitting for African Americans that led to more than 47,000 annual deaths in our community alone.

"We embarked on a public education campaign via national conferences, press releases, and community engagement that helped our constituents and researchers focus in on answering why menthol was the only flavor additive that was exempted from initial regulatory legislation. In the process, we learned of its impact on other communities. In addition, while there has not been a direct link established between the degrees of 'increased harm' created by mentholated versus non-mentholated cigarettes, we all agree that any cigarette is harmful to the health of the user and the public at large. So, the question should not be, is a menthol cigarette any more harmful than a non-mentholated one? A more appropriate question is, who are we hurting if we remove menthol cigarettes? The answer is clear."

The panel examined menthol from various perspectives. They determined that "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." Data also indicated that menthol cigarettes "contributes to nicotine dependence in at least the 30 percent of adult smokers" who use them, and that menthol cigarettes reduce smoking cessation, especially among African-Americans, and increases the overall prevalence of smoking among African Americans.

For the public, it is evident from seeing the number of ads in small mom and pop stores, liquor stores and convenient stores in predominantly African American, Latino and Asian communities that menthol cigarettes are marketed disproportionately to younger smokers and African Americans. This community perspective is validated by tobacco industry documents that clearly show how they targeted our communities with these mentholated products. Therefore banning menthol would reduce smoking and its deadly consequences in our communities.

In one of its chapters, the panel did say that in terms of risks for smokers of mentholated cigarettes that menthol did not pose a greater risk for lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. However, we know that smoking kills one of every three consumers. Menthol helps the poison go down easier, but the poison is still there.

We thank the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee that under duress and after being sued by the tobacco industry, it has brought forth the right recommendations to the FDA. Now it is up to the FDA to carry out the regulatory regime demanded by Congress and to act promptly and responsibly and to review the evidence and ban the use of menthol as an additive to cigarettes and to all tobacco products. We hope that the FDA will do the right thing and ban menthol.

Source: National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and National Latino Tobacco Control Network.

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