American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Cancer Policy Monitor


                                                                                                    AUGUST 2010

FDA EXAMINING IMPACT OF MENTHOL CIGARETTES                                        

Tobacco companies dispute need for further restrictions

There is no scientific- or evidence-based rationale to support an FDA ban on menthol cigarettes, maintained tobacco industry executives last month as they testified before an FDA panel investigating the FDA's position on menthol.

During presentations to members of the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC), representatives from Phillip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard Tobacco Company ardently defended their products and rejected assertions that marketing of menthol is targeted to young people or minorities.

Menthol cigarettes are used by about a quarter of smokers and make up almost one-third of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market. Surveys have shown that menthol cigarette use is more common among newer, younger smokers and a large majority of African-American smokers, particularly women.

The FDA has already banned the distribution, manufacture and importation of candy-, fruit- or spice-flavored cigarettes, but the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which empowered the agency to regulate tobacco products, contained language specifically exempting menthol products from an FDA ban. Instead, the law charged the agency to study the issue and determine whether restrictions would serve the public health.

The meeting was the advisory panel’s second since it was established earlier this year. In March, the panel received presentations about published literature on menthol, including how it relates to the demographics of users, effects of menthol on addiction and cessation, and marketing and consumer perceptions about menthol cigarettes. TSPAC will hold at least one other full committee meeting on menthol before it issues a final recommendation to the FDA in March 2011.

The AACR strongly supports banning menthol from cigarettes. A policy statement spearheaded by the AACR Task Force on Tobacco and Cancer cites evidence suggesting that menthol cigarettes may serve as a starter product, similar to other flavored cigarettes, and that menthol helps to sustain tobacco use, in part by making tobacco smoke more palatable, which may contribute to the higher dependence levels and greater health burden found among African American smokers compared with the general population.

The task force was formed in 2009 to foster both scientific and policy initiatives aimed at radically reducing the incidence of tobacco use and its dramatic toll on human life. Given that tobacco use has been definitively proven to cause cancer and accounts for 30 percent of cancer mortality in the U.S., the AACR has a keen interest in strategic priorities that the FDA will pursue under the new regulatory authority over tobacco products granted by the Tobacco Control Act.


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