July 24, 2013
Menthol Cigarettes May Alter Body’s Response To Smoke, Says FDA Report
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a research review on menthol cigarettes today that many observers say is a precursor to further restrictions or bans on the mint-flavored tobacco product.
While adding peppermint oil extract probably doesn't make cigarettes more more likely to cause diseases, the agency said menthol conveyed an "altered physiological responses to tobacco smoke," which could add to tobacco's already addictive qualities and increase smoking behavior.
The FDA has opened a 60-day public comment period on the report that could be used to influence new tobacco restrictions.
"FDA's actions today on menthol reflect our commitment to explore all potential options, including the establishment of product standards," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told the Los Angeles Times.
Menthol cigarette maker Lorillard pushed back against the report in a statement that said "the best available science demonstrates that menthol cigarettes have the same health effects as nonmenthol cigarettes and should be treated no differently."
Since 2009, the FDA has banned several cigarette additives designed to make tobacco more appealing, including cloves, chocolate and various fruit flavors. Some attribute the agency's lack of regulatory actions on menthol cigarettes to objections from the African American community. Previous research has shown that menthols are the cigarettes of choice for almost 75 percent of all African American smokers, and the FDA has acknowledged that regulatory changes would disproportionately affect minorities.
In 2010, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and two other interest groups pushed the FDA not to ban menthol cigarettes. They argued that a ban would cause additional stress for law enforcement agencies and open up an underground market for the illicit sale of tobacco products.
Some research has suggested that African Americans have a genetic predilection for mentholated cigarettes over regular tobacco. Other research has shown that menthol smokers light their first cigarette sooner after waking in the morning, are more likely to wake up at night for a smoke, are less successful quitters and are more likely to relapse than regular cigarette smokers.
Two studies published this week added to the growing body of evidence supporting the notion that menthols are more dangerous than normal cigarettes. In one study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, neuroscientists showed that menthol affects the same brain receptors as nicotine, resulting in a dampening of the brain's typical response to nicotine and potentially causing smokers to compensate by smoking more often.
"Today I cannot tell you that menthol cigarettes are more addictive," said study author Nadine I. Kabbani of George Mason University in Virginia. "But I can tell you that they're increasingly found to have biological and biophysical properties that go beyond flavor."
In a separate research review, Kabbani focused on menthol's effects on nicotinic receptors found throughout the body. She found that menthol alters the effects of nicotine on these receptors - sometimes amplifying them, sometimes reducing them.
Kabbani suggested that these studies indicate that menthol cigarettes need to be taken more seriously than non-flavored cigarettes.
"It's almost like spiking your vodka with beer," she said.