02 March 2010

FDA probes menthol cigarettes

A US scientific panel this month will weigh the controversial role of menthol flavouring in cigarettes.


A US scientific panel this month will weigh the controversial role of menthol flavouring in cigarettes in the first public meeting on tobacco products since a new law granted regulators power over the industry last year.

Over two days, the Food and Drug Administration's panel of outside experts will look at the health impact of the mint-like additive on smoker's use as well as addiction and health, with another meeting set later this year, the FDA said.

Menthol cigarettes, smoked by about 12 million Americans and 75% of African American smokers, have come under scrutiny by anti-smoking advocates who say the taste can be more enticing and possibly addicting than regular cigarettes.

Other flavours banned

Bipartisan legislation that gave the FDA oversight of cigarettes and other tobacco products banned other flavours such as chocolate, clove and fruit. But lawmakers exempted menthol, the most popular flavoring accounting for about 27% of the cigarette market, and instead called for an FDA review.

The meeting will also offer the first public glimpse into the FDA's handling of the industry since the agency in August set up its new tobacco centre, opposed by most tobacco companies except the nation's largest cigarette maker, Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris unit.

Agenda of meeting

At the meeting, scheduled for March 30 and 31, FDA panelists will focus on who smokes menthol cigarettes and the flavoring's effects on how cigarettes are smoked. Another meeting this summer will feature industry research and documents.

Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which backed the new law, said it was too early to say what action the panel or the FDA may take. "We have to give them time to collect the scientific information," he said.

Some experts and financial analysts have said they do not expect an outright ban on menthol, although the FDA could take such action, among other steps such as product label changes.

Despite the cigarette flavouring ban, coffee, mint and others are still used in controversial dissolvable tobacco products sold by Reynolds American Inc and Star Scientific. Some experts had expected FDA's panel might first tackle such candy-like tobacco products. - (Reuters Health, March 2010)


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