The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed ban on mentholated cigarettes is stirring controversy, but a recently released scientific journal’s supplement underscores the need for federal intervention. In March, the FDA convened the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to decide whether to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes.
During the summer, the agency heard arguments from the tobacco industry that menthol cigarettes are no more dangerous than any other type of cigarette.
But research published in the December issue of the journal Addiction found that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and young adults smoke menthol cigarettes and have a hard time quitting.
In 2009, flavored cigarettes–strawberry, grape, pineapple, and chocolate–were banned under the Family Smoking Act, but menthol, the most popular of the flavored cigarettes, was not included.
African-Americans, particularly those ages 18 to 24, are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than any other group. Previous research found that tobacco companies have specifically targeted young black people in pushing smoking.
Although manufacturers contend that menthol cigarettes are no more dangerous than any other flavor, articles published in the journal found increased nicotine addiction among daily smokers and a higher dependency rate among young smokers who did not smoke daily.
The research also found that menthol smokers were unwilling to switch to non-mentholated cigarettes. This is particularly important because tactics to get smokers to quit have included driving up prices. Non-menthol smokers are more inclined to stop smoking if the price is too high, but menthol smokers will continue to light up, researchers said.
“These manuscripts, along with those in the prior literature, show that menthol-cigarette smoking disproportionately impacts populations at risk of initiating smoking, young people, and tobacco-related health disparities,” said Kola Okuyemi, the supplement’s senior editor. “Given the overwhelming disease and death caused by smoking, menthol has no redeeming value other than it makes the poison go down more easily.”
“The menthol smoking rates among minority communities are disproportionately high, and to add insult to injury, once they do decide to quit, it is often more challenging for them to do so successfully,” said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of Legacy, a foundation that develops health programs aimed at tobacco use. “We believe that the comprehensive findings of this special issue, along with past research, provide the FDA with the necessary information to ban menthol.”
Healton testified at the FDA’s March hearing on the potential ban. The scientific advisory committee is currently reviewing evidence to evaluate the impact of the use of menthol cigarettes on the public’s health and will submit its report to the FDA in March 2012.
The possible ban did not stop Philip Morris from releasing a new line of Marlboro cigarettes in October. The menthol cigarette called Skyline is available in all states except Michigan, where Philip Morris is experimenting with another menthol-cigarette line.