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FDA Panel Mulls Fate of Menthol Cigarettes

Menthols May Be Added to Federal Ban of Flavored Cigarettes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 30, 2010 -- Menthol cigarettes, long a target of antismoking advocates, came under federal scrutiny as the FDA convened an advisory panel today to investigate their potential health risks.

It was the inaugural meeting of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, whose 12 members include health care professionals and three non-voting tobacco industry representatives.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products, was passed in June 2009. In September 2009, the FDA banned nearly all flavored cigarettes - chocolate, clove, and cherry, for example.

Menthols, which account for about a quarter of the cigarette market, were an exception. That may change, depending on what the committee recommends in its final report, which is due a year from now.

The committee will have their work cut out for them. Their recommendations will derive in part from the evidence heard during the course of the two day meeting. Much of that evidence -- presented today by government scientists -- was inconclusive or contradictory.

Menthol Cigarettes: Data Inconclusive

For example, several studies suggest that people who smoke menthols are less likely to quit than those who smoke regular cigarettes, according to Allison Hoffman of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, Johnson also stated that a number of other studies found no such link between menthol cigarettes and smoking cessation.

“We need better access to data to analyze these trends,” said Hoffman.

That was a common refrain throughout the day. The FDA’s Joshua Rising, MD, MPH, discussed the impact of marketing on the sale and consumption of menthol cigarettes. But due to the limited amount of publicly available research -- he found only three studies on adults and none on women and adolescents -- there were few conclusions he could offer.

“It’s amazing how little information we have,” said committee member Jack E. Henningfield, PhD, vice president of research and health policy at Pinney Associates, a Bethesda, Md.-based health care consulting firm. “There’s got to be information, and we’re going to have find where it is.”

Their efforts will continue on Wednesday, when the committee will hear from representatives of the tobacco industry as well as members of the public.

“It will be unfettered discussion,” said committee chairman Jonathan M. Samet, MD, of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

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