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Menthol Cigarette Risks May Result in FDA Restrictions

Menthol cigarettes may soon come under tighter regulations, after the FDA warned that they may be more addictive and pose an even greater health risk than regular cigarettes. 

On Tuesday, the agency announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) involving menthol cigarettes, calling for more information that could lead the FDA in deciding what regulatory changes may need to be made.

The ANPRM inquiry will also help the FDA to determine if stricter regulations should be placed on the minty cigarettes, including whether to limit, ban or place other restrictions on them.

The action comes following the preliminary findings of an FDA health report, which determined that menthol cigarettes are more addicting than regular cigarettes. The report also found little evidence to suggest menthol cigarettes are more toxic than non-menthol cigarettes, but it did say smoking menthol can make it easier, and often more appealing, to begin smoking and much more difficult to quit.

Menthol Cigarette Sales, Use On the Rise

The FDA cites the cigarettes cooling effect as increasing appeal to younger smokers. Approximately 30% of all adult smokers and 40% of youths report smoking menthol cigarettes. Teenagers, minorities and low-income smokers report greater use of menthol than non-menthol cigarettes.

The menthol cigarette market continues to grow, despite the decreasing sales for regular cigarettes in the remainder of the market. Menthol cigarettes made up nearly 34% of the market in 2008 and nearly 38% in 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward.”

The ANPRM calls for comments, data and research to make an informed decision. In addition, the FDA plans to support other research concerning the differences between menthol and regular cigarettes, especially concerning quitting and assessing the levels of menthol in cigarettes.

The research will focus on genetic differences in taste perceptions in racial and ethnic populations likely to use menthol, along with comparing exposure to smoke related toxins in both types of cigarettes and the effects of each type.

The FDA inquiry follows the 2009 decision to exempt menthol from the ban on flavors in cigarettes, including candy and clove flavored brands. In 2012, the World Trade Organization ruled the United States must either impose a ban on menthol cigarettes or remove the ban of flavored cigarettes from other countries.

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