FDA Panel Says Menthols Need to Go

If a panel of health experts has its way, mentholated cigarettes will be a thing of the past in 2012. Goodbye, Kools.

Posted: 03/21/2011 08:26 AM EDT
menthol, cigarette

They’ve been sussing it out for months now, and today a scientific panel convened to make recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration about the safety of mentholated cigarettes has reached a conclusion: menthols should go.

The panel of scientists, physicians, and other public health officials has worked for a year gathering data about menthols in order to make their conclusion. Though their report states that mentholated cigarettes aren’t any worse for consumers than regular cigarettes—a point tobacco lobbyists have been trying to sell for years—they still decided that “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit the public health.”

Their reasoning states that menthols, which are easier to smoke than regular cigarettes because they mask the harsh taste with a “minty” flavor, are more attractive to teenage smokers. The panel also found that the targeted marketing of menthols to African-Americans has resulted in a boom of Black smokers in America.

And that, if you peek behind the curtain, is from where a lot of this fight to keep menthols on the market stems.

About 80-percent of Black smokers choose menthols, making up a large share of the $70 billion American cigarette industry. With about 22 percent of Blacks smoking, the loss of menthols and the African-American dollars that buy them would be a huge financial blow for cigarette purveyors. The tobacco industry knows this, which is why they’ve lobbied so hard to keep them around.

In a letter to the panel, the tobacco industry argued—once again—that menthols aren’t physically worse for smokers than other cigarettes. It also said that a ban on menthols would lead to a black market for mentholated brands, thus spiking violence and sapping tax revenue from the government (which seems a bit far-fetched).

Though the FDA certainly doesn’t have to do what the panel tells it, it generally does. If that’s the case, get ready for less Newport ads in Black communities, and less heart disease and lung cancer, too.

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