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FDA Report Notes Rising Use Of Menthol Cigarettes By Teens

March 15, 2011

The use of menthol cigarettes among teenagers, especially African-American and Hispanic teens, is on the rise, and US health officials are said to be considering a ban on the mint-flavored tobacco products, various media reports.

According to Lisa Richwine of Reuters, “More than 80 percent of black adolescent smokers and more than half of Hispanic adolescent smokers use menthol cigarettes, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration said in a draft chapter for a report due next week.”

Richwine says that FDA officials will use the proposal to determine whether or not they should limit the availability of menthol cigarettes, or ban them outright. They will be holding a public meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss their findings, the Reuters reporter added.

“Anti-smoking campaigners argue they are dangerous because the mint flavoring hides the harsh taste of tobacco, making them more appealing to young smokers,” the UK newspaper the Daily Mail reported on Monday. “But cigarette manufacturers including Lorillard, which makes the popular Newport brand, say they are no more addictive than ordinary cigarettes.”

For that reason, Lorillard, who manufacture Newport, Kent, and True brand cigarettes, and RJ Reynolds, the maker of Kool, Camel, and Winston products, have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the committee’s recommendations, according to Rita Rubin of USA Today.

That lawsuit, filed on February 25, claims that three members of the FDA panel of conflicts of interest and cannot provide the federal agency with unbiased recommendations.

The FDA report states that the use of menthol cigarettes is “very high” among minorities, and that their use by white kids between the ages of 12 and 17 has seen a “significant increase” in recent years.

According to the Daily Mail, last year Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the Washington-based smoking prevention group the American Legacy Foundation, told MSN, “The manufacturers would have you believe there is not a scintilla of evidence that menthol is no more dangerous than other cigarettes to the individual smoker, but we do not agree.”

“Over 80 percent of African-American smokers smoke menthol, and African-American smokers have the highest rates of lung cancer,” she added. “We also know African-Americans with lung cancer are more likely to die from lung cancer.”

The FDA, who received regulator power over tobacco-based products in 2009, has already banned the addition of flavors such as chocolate, fruit, vanilla, cocoa and cinnamon to tobacco products, claiming that they, in the words of the Daily Mail, “enticed children to start smoking.” The final report is scheduled to be presented to the FDA by March 23.

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