WASHINGTON – A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Friday said that “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.”
The panel’s assessment is, in effect, a recommendation that the FDA consider banning menthol, the flavoring used in about 30 percent of cigarettes smoked in the U.S.
There’s no timetable for an FDA decision, and neither is there a requirement that the agency accept the advisory panel’s advice.
Tobacco industry analysts interpreted the absence of an explicit recommendation of a ban as a signal that the FDA would not completely eliminate menthol.
A ban, if one is enacted, is expected to take years to put into effect.
Anti-smoking groups hailed the panel’s advice and urged the FDA to follow through with a ban.
A review of menthol was mandated by the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which put tobacco under the regulatory authority of the FDA.
The law banned other flavorings, like fruit and spice, because of their potential to lure young smokers. But in a political compromise, it specified a separate review for menthol.
In draft chapters of a final report due Wednesday, the panel said the scientific evidence showed that menthol has cooling and numbing effects that reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and that could make it easier for young people to start smoking and harder for them to quit.
The committee also said menthol was likely to make low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes more satisfying, and that smokers “who switch to low-yield cigarettes for health concerns may be more likely to continue to smoke rather than quit.”