By Molly Peterson – Mar 1, 2011 12:01 AM ET
“The evidence is insufficient” to conclude that menthol smokers face a different disease risk than people who use regular cigarettes, said advisers to the Food and Drug Administration. Still, menthol may make smoking more addictive, the panelists said. The comments were posted yesterday on the FDA website in two draft chapters of a report the panel must submit by March 23.
The FDA advisers’ non-binding report is required by a 2009 law that restricts tobacco marketing and bars cigarette makers from adding flavors such as clove or strawberry. An FDA conclusion that menthol cigarettes are more dangerous than unflavored versions may lead to a ban.
Menthol products account for about 30 percent of the $85 billion in annual U.S. cigarette sales. Lorillard Inc.’s Newport is the top-selling menthol brand with $5 billion a year in revenue, followed by Marlboro Menthol from Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc.’s Camel Menthol, Kool and Salem, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Spokesmen for Altria, Reynolds and Lorillard weren’t immediately available after business hours yesterday for comment on the panel’s preliminary findings.
Lorillard Shares Rise
Lorillard, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, rose $4.23, or 5.5 percent, to $81 at 7:53 p.m. in extended trading after declining less than 1 percent to close at $76.77 on the New York Stock Exchange. Reynolds, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, gained 1.9 percent to $34.97, while shares of Richmond, Virginia-based Altria were unchanged at $25.37.
There isn’t enough evidence to conclude that menthol smokers inhale more smoke or are exposed to higher nicotine levels than non-menthol smokers, according to a draft chapter titled “Effects Of Menthol on the Disease Risks of Smoking.”
Still, it is “biologically plausible” that menthol flavoring makes cigarettes more addictive, the panel said in a separate draft chapter, titled “The Physiological Effects of Menthol Cigarettes.”
“Menthol provides an unmistakable sensory experience — the minty taste, cooling sensation and throat irritation or impact,” the panelists said. “The taste and odor are pleasurable for menthol cigarette smokers and may reinforce smoking behavior.”
Disease risks also aren’t the only indicator of menthol cigarettes’ impact on public health, panel members said in a draft of the report’s first chapter.
“The availability of menthol cigarettes could have no significant effect on risk for disease outcomes, yet have a significant effect on increasing initiation or reducing the success of cessation,” the panel said in its draft. “The resultant increase in the prevalence of smoking would represent a negative public health impact.”
The FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee reviewed decades of published studies and FDA research, along with marketing data submitted by Altria Philip Morris USA unit, Reynolds American and Lorillard, the three biggest U.S. tobacco companies,
Advisory panel members are scheduled tomorrow to discuss the draft chapters at a meeting.
Lorillard and Reynolds have sued the FDA to block the agency from “receiving or relying on” the advisory panel’s recommendations. Three of the eight panel members have conflicts of interest, according to the complaint filed Feb. 25 in federal court in Washington.
The three panelists have served as paid witnesses in lawsuits against the tobacco industry and take money from drug companies that make smoking-cessation aids, Lorillard and Reynolds said in the complaint. Altria isn’t part of the suit.
To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington at email@example.com