Legacy(SM) Reiterates Call for Prohibition of Menthol Products

Mar 30, 2010, 10:30 ET from Legacy

National Foundation Encouraged by FDA Panel Review of Menthol Products

WASHINGTON, March 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On March 30-31, the FDA's newly announced Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee will convene to examine, as a first order of business, the issue of menthol cigarettes. The committee was created as a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act), which was signed into law last year.

The Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA authority to eliminate menthol tobacco products. Legacy, the nation's leading public health foundation dedicated to tobacco prevention and cessation, believes that there is a strong case for menthol prohibition and a real possibility that the FDA will take precisely this step.

Legacy has long supported prohibition of menthol cigarettes and believes that now is the time to act to remove these dangerous products from the marketplace.

Under the law, an FDA decision to prohibit menthol must be based on:

  • A determination that such a ban is "appropriate for the protection of the public health," taking into account the risks and benefits for the population as a whole, including both smokers and non-smokers and
  • A ban's, "likely" impact on rates of both smoking initiation and smoking cessation.  

The science soundly supports a conclusion that prohibition of menthol tobacco products would be appropriate under the "the protection of the public health" standard.  

  • Menthols lure young people to start smoking.
    • Newer and younger smokers use menthol cigarettes at dramatically higher rates than older, established smokers. For example, new, middle-school smokers smoke menthols at twice the rate of established smokers.
    • Nearly 80 percent of all smokers start smoking before the age of 18, and almost none start after their young adult years, so a ban on menthol will, at the least, very "likely" result in lower rates of smoking initiation overall.  

  • Menthols have been a key part of the tobacco industry's fraudulent health reassurance campaign to keep smokers smoking.
    • Menthols have long been marketed as having medicinal benefits – from early and explicit advertising messages encouraging smokers to switch to a menthol brand to "combat a cough" to more subtle messaging, which often uses code words like "smooth" and "refreshes" and the colors of blue and green.
    • The decision in the federal government's racketeering suit against the major tobacco companies establishes that menthol products were part of the industry's fraudulent effort to promote low tar/light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes. This fraud convinced countless smokers to make the deadly decision to switch to "light" cigarettes rather than quit. By taking off the market a product that the industry has falsely promoted as having positive health benefits, a ban on menthol will be in the interest of the public health.

  • Menthols have been targeted to communities of color, which often bear a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease.
    • As far back as the 1940's the tobacco industry has targeted the marketing of menthol cigarettes to minority racial and ethnic groups, including African-Americans and Hispanics.
    • A ban on menthol will very likely reduce smoking rates among these populations thus clearly serving the interest of the public health.

As expected, the tobacco industry opposes the prohibition of menthol products. It claims that the science does not show that menthol cigarettes present a higher risk than non-menthol cigarettes to established smokers. However, this argument misconstrues the statutory standard. In fact, the FDA has the authority to prohibit menthol as a flavoring for the same reason Congress eliminated every other flavor from cigarettes -- because it lures young people into a deadly addiction. Menthol's established part in the industry's decades-long health reassurance fraud and its demonstrated role in contributing to smoking initiation by racial and ethnic minorities provide additional powerful reasons to support the prohibition.

Moreover, while we agree that the science is not yet fully conclusive on some points and still requires research on the relative risk of menthol and non-menthol cigarettes to established smokers -- including the relative impact on successful smoking cessation -- there are troubling research findings that suggest that menthols could pose unique risks, including data showing:

  • Menthol smokers of some racial/ethnic groups have lower quit rates than non-menthol smokers in the same groups;
  • Adolescent menthol smokers find it harder to quit, are less likely to be seriously thinking about quitting and score higher on some dependence measures compared to non-menthol smokers; and
  • Menthol smokers trying to quit are more likely to relapse compared to non-menthol smokers.

Legacy is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the national public health organization helps Americans live longer, healthier lives. Legacy develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation's programs include truth®, a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as having contributed to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit http://www.legacyforhealth.org/.

Legacy is equipped with a VideoLink ReadyCam™ television studio system, providing journalists with faster, easier access to the nation's leading tobacco prevention and cessation experts. From this in-house broadcast studio, Legacy can offer immediate access to its experts to comment on breaking news, new research publications, or any news related to youth smoking prevention, adult quit smoking programs, or any issue related to smoking. The studio is connected directly to the Vyvx fiber network and is always available for live or pre-taped interviews.