Ban menthol cigarettes, FDA panel urges

American Medical Association

A study says the products are more hazardous and addictive, but a journal article says they are no worse than other cigarettes.

By Alicia Gallegos, amednews staff. Posted April 6, 2011.


Menthol cigarettes have a higher risk of causing tobacco-related diseases than other cigarettes and should be pulled from shelves, according to a report by the Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee.

Research shows that menthol cigarette smokers inhale more smoke and tar particles than other cigarette smokers and that the products are more addictive, the March 18 report said. The findings were based on the committee’s analysis of studies, tests and surveys conducted during the last several decades. The committee was formed under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to provide recommendations to the FDA about tobacco-related issues.

The agency is reviewing the report and plans to provide an update on its review in three months, said Lawrence R. Deyton, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

R.J. Reynolds, one of the major U.S. tobacco companies, pledged to work with the FDA as it begins its analysis of the report.

The report “does not set FDA policy, and it does not set FDA actions,” said Jeffery S. Gentry, executive vice president of operations for R.J. Reynolds. “It is information that the agency will take into consideration in its analysis. We continue to believe that any final decision by the agency should be based on sound science, and we look forward to continuing to provide information and our perspectives on this issue.”

Suit challenges FDA committee

R.J. Reynolds is one of two tobacco companies that sued the FDA, challenging the objectivity of the advisory panel.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 25 in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, claims some members of the committee have been paid as expert witnesses for legal claims against tobacco companies. The members have conflicting interests and should be forbidden on the panel, the suit said.

“The lawsuit has nothing to do with recommendations; it’s the makeup of the panel. That’s the bottom line,” said R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard. “The committee is not fairly balanced.”

The tobacco companies sent the FDA letters requesting the objectivity issue be reviewed before filing the lawsuit, but the concerns were never addressed, Howard said.

The FDA had no comment on the lawsuit, said FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura.

Meanwhile, a study published online March 23 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that menthol cigarettes are no more likely to cause lung cancer than regular cigarettes. The study also showed no significant differences among smokers quitting menthol cigarettes compared with those quitting other cigarettes.

The research was conducted by the Southern Community Cohort Study, a cancer research project funded by the National Cancer Institute. Researchers surveyed more than 12,000 smokers and analyzed 440 cancer patients and 2,213 people without lung cancer.

“[The] findings are timely as deliberations are ongoing regarding the potential ban of the sale of menthol cigarettes in the United States,” the study authors said.

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