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Panel on Menthol Sees Through Tobacco Industry’s Smoke

March 17, 2011


The tobacco industry's spin machine has gone into overdrive as we near the March 23 deadline for an Food and Drug Administration science advisory committee to issue a report on menthol cigarettes.

It's trying to convince the media — and nervous investors — that the committee will find menthol does not make cigarettes any more harmful, and nothing should be done about it.

But Big Tobacco's spin is running into the facts.

The committee has been releasing draft chapters of its report, and its findings unmistakably show that menthol cigarettes are bad for public health.

Here are some relevant facts in the drafts:

  • Youth between 12 and 17 smoke menthol cigarettes at a higher rate than any other age group. In 2008, 48.3 percent of these youth smokers smoked menthol, compared to 33.8 percent of adult smokers.
  • Menthol use is particularly high among minority youth and especially among African-American teens. More than 80 percent of African-American youth who smoke use menthol.
  • Use of menthol cigarettes among adolescents is rising.
  • Menthol has 'cooling and anesthetic effects' that make cigarette smoke seem less harsh and could therefore make it easier for youth to start smoking and stick with it.
  • Menthol 'is likely' to make low-tar and nicotine cigarettes more satisfying, and smokers who switch to these cigarettes out of concern for their health may be more likely to continue smoking rather than quit.
  • It is 'biologically plausible that menthol makes cigarette smoking more addictive.'

More likely to attract kids and more likely to keep smokers hooked even if they're concerned about their health.

That's a formula for more disease and death — and surely qualifies as a 'negative public health impact' that requires action. The committee meets this afternoon and Friday to discuss what actions it will recommend.

Percentage of Youth Smokers Who Used a Menthol Brand of Cigarette in Middle School and High School

All youth smokers 51.7 43.1
Male 55.1 39.4
Female 48.1 46.9
African-American 80.6 84.8
Asian-American 57.4 43.6
Hispanic 57.9 56.4
White 43.1 37.6

Source: FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee