Minty Fresh But Still a Killer

FDA warns that menthol cigarettes may pose greater health risk than regular cigarettes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Don’t let the minty taste fool you. Menthol cigarettes have a cooling flavor which makes them easier to start smoking and more difficult to quit, according to the FDA.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a preliminary evaluation finding that menthol flavored cigarettes probably pose a bigger health danger to the public than regular cigarettes.

The FDA is not banning or restricting menthol cigarettes in any way as of yet, but it is asking for public comment to decide on possible regulations.

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Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, the FDA Commissioner, said menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions.

Tobacco use continues to be the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the FDA. About a third of all adult smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, and their use is extremely high among African Americans.

Almost 84 percent of African American smokers aged 12 years or older reported smoking a mentholated brand of cigarette, compared to 24 percent of their Caucasian counterparts and 32 percent of Hispanic smokers, according to the American Lung Association.

The FDA also states that more than four out of ten young smokers reported smoking menthol cigarettes.

In an earlier review, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee found menthol cigarettes have a negative impact on public health by inviting experimentation by young people, which increases the number of youth who become regular smokers. This new assessment came to similar conclusions.

The FDA has already banned cigarettes with certain sweet and spicy flavors in an effort to reduce the number of children who start smoking and become addicted to tobacco. Its 2009 ruling stamped out cigarettes with strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry or coffee flavors. Menthol, however, was the exception.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, has urged the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes as soon as possible.

“If the FDA takes menthol cigarettes off the shelves, we will remove one product that lures young people into a deadly habit and sets them on the road to early hardening of the arteries and coronary artery disease in adulthood,” said Brown in a statement.

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association and several other organizations joined forces to submit a citizen petition to the FDA, requesting that the agency adopt standards that would restrict the addition of menthol to cigarettes.

The latest FDA review found menthol smokers had no increased risk of getting cancer or other diseases compared to nonsmokers. However, the report did conclude that, compared to regular cigarettes, menthols may attract more young people to smoke.  And they are “likely associated with greater addiction.”

If you would like to make your comments known to the FDA during the next 60 days, see the link to the Advanced Notice for Proposed Rulemaking in the resources below.

“The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward,” said Dr. Hamburg.

In addition, the FDA is planning to support new research on menthol cigarettes, including studies on cessation and use among certain racial and ethnic populations. The agency is also developing a youth education campaign focused on preventing and reducing tobacco use, including menthol cigarettes.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 24, 2013
Last Updated:
July 26, 2013