Lorillard Inc., Altria Group Inc. and other tobacco companies may face limits on selling menthol cigarettes in the U.S. after regulators determined the minty flavoring may encourage people to start smoking.
The Food and Drug Administration, in a preliminary evaluation today, stopped short of proposing a ban. The FDA is instead asking for input on whether to set standards prohibiting or limiting menthol levels in cigarettes. A panel of outside advisers to the FDA determined in 2011 that ending menthol sales would benefit public health because the flavor lures more people to start smoking.
Menthol makes up about 30 percent of the cigarette market, Lorillard, the largest U.S. maker of menthol cigarettes, said on its “Understanding Menthol” website. Greensboro, North Carolina-based Lorillard makes the Newport brand of menthol cigarettes, while Altria’s Philip Morris USA unit sells versions of the Marlboro cigarette in menthol. Reynolds American Inc. sells Camel Menthol, Kool and Salem.
“FDA’s actions today on menthol reflect our commitment to explore all potential options, including the establishment of product standards,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement. “In the meantime, we will conduct new research to further inform our decision making.”
The FDA didn’t provide a deadline for making a decision.
Menthol cigarettes probably are associated with increased dependence and reduced success in smoking cessation, especially among black smokers, the FDA said in the preliminary evaluation. The ingredient itself isn’t a danger.
“From the available studies, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that menthol in cigarettes is not associated with an increase in disease risk to the user compared to non-menthol cigarette smokers,” the FDA said.
Companies have been waiting on a determination from the FDA since the agency was given authority by Congress to regulate the cigarette flavoring under a 2009 law covering tobacco products. The industry argued in a March 2011 report the science doesn’t support any claim menthol cigarettes have a disproportionate impact on public health.
The 2009 law also gave the FDA the authority to determine which current tobacco products can remain on the market and which new ones can be introduced. Lorillard won the first two clearances from the FDA in June to market new tobacco products among 500 requests. The agency cleared two non-menthol Gold Box cigarettes from the tobacco company for sale.
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