FDA Panel Says Menthol Cigarettes Are Harmful, But Don’t Ban Them
In a report, a FDA advisory panel explained that although menthol cigarettes seem to be a significant factor in the rise of smoking among adolescents, they don’t recommend a total ban, instead urging further study of the issue. This would presumably lead to more moderate actions or regulation, in an attempt to limit young people’s access to the cigarettes.
Even though the report concluded that the “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States,” a researcher for an independent firm explained that he saw little in the report to suggest an “outright ban.”
This seems to be motivated primarily by political pragmatism. The Republican-controlled House is unlikely to pass restrictions on cigarettes, and President Obama, who is struggling with a number of different controversial issues, may not be willing to shoulder another.
The debate over menthol cigarettes is complicated by a racial dimension, because they’re preferred by 80 percent of black smokers. Black civic groups have stepped forward, saying that a ban on menthol cigarettes would disproportionately affect black consumers. The cigarettes were not included in 2009 tobacco restrictions which sought to ban flavorings, because they tend to draw in young smokers.
What cigarette companies really fear, according to Robert Proctor, a professor at Stanford, is being forced to limit the amount of nicotine in their products. But since the FDA is unwilling to call for a ban on menthol, cigarette companies don’t need to start worrying about that problem yet.
The bottom line seems to be this: smoking is still bad for you (it’s the leading cause of preventable death in the United States), and menthol flavoring only makes cigarettes more appealing. But it’s not politically viable to ban such a large portion of the cigarette market, so for now, the only thing that might happen are increased restrictions on consumers.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.