A Boost for Keeping Menthol Cigarettes Legal

Published in CSP Daily News

FDA study shows lower risk of dying from lung cancer

WASHINGTON -- A Food and Drug Administration scientist has found a lower risk of dying from lung cancer among menthol smokers compared to non-menthol smokers at ages 50 and over, according to a report in the Winston-Salem Journal.

The scientist, Brian Rostron of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, studied data of 6,074 smokers from 1987 to 2006, including 1,417 who smoked only menthol cigarettes.

The lower risk of dying from lung cancer was found in all age groups, in men and women, and with black smokers compared with white smokers.

"These results agree with expectations that any association between lung cancer and menthol smoking would be greatest at ages in which smokers have smoked longer and accumulated more pack-years of smoking," Rostron said in a study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The report adds another layer of complexity to the public-health debate over menthol cigarettes, which are mint-flavored and one of the few growth sectors of the shrinking cigarette business, according to the newspaper report.

The FDA in June began an independent review of research following a report from its Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory committee that recommends a ban of menthol cigarettes.

The committee said the flavoring has led to an increase in smokers--particularly among teens, African-Americans and those with low incomes. It also said menthol flavoring makes it harder for them to quit.

A menthol ban or other restrictions on the cigarettes would fall heavily on Lorillard Inc., whose Newport brand is the top-selling U.S. menthol cigarette at 35% of the market.

"The public-health implications of any decreased lung cancer risk of menthol smoking compared with non-menthol smoking, if ever conclusively demonstrated, are inevitably problematic," Rostron said. "Smoking of any kind of cigarette is known to profoundly harm individual and population health.

"Further study is needed into possible explanations for the observed association and the public-health impact of potential reasons for it. This research could potentially identify ways to decrease the individual risk of cigarettes."