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Menthol and Science
Should menthol cigarettes be banned? That question is the essence of the first issue the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee will be considering at its initial meeting. To be more precise, the science panel will consider a number of technical matters related to assessing whether menthol cigarettes present different health risks than other cigarettes.

Menthol cigarettes are controversial. For example, the American Legacy Foundation, an NGO created by the Master Settlement Agreement, has called on the FDA "to move expeditiously to ban" menthol cigarettes.

Views on menthol, however, are not one-sided. For example, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids opposes banning menthol cigarettes. The anti-tobacco watchdog circulated an issue paper which explained the organization's position opposing an immediate menthol prohibition stating that such a ban that "would negatively impact the public's health."

The President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids noted that "If you immediately withdrew a product so many people use and are addicted to, you can't say for certain what the reaction would be. It might cause people to quit smoking, but it might also lead to illegal trafficking in menthol cigarettes or other behavioral changes."

In addition to concern about potentially harmful behavioral changes, the danger of increased cigarette smuggling needs to be taken seriously. Given the growing size, sophistication and lethality of transnational crime syndicates, adding an additional product to their portfolio is an exceedingly poor idea.

The science panel's job is to carefully evaluate the weight of the scientific evidence regarding the risks of menthol cigarettes vis-a-vis lower-menthol counterparts (almost all cigarettes contain some menthol). If the panel's scientists adhere to federal science quality standards, it can be expected that cigarettes will be regulated the same irrespective of their level of menthol.

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