Third in a Series: FDA's Review of Menthol in Cigarettes

Article continues weekly series on the status of various FDA regulations

Published in Tobacco E-News

By  Thomas A. Briant, Executive Director

As required under the provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (the law which granted the FDA the authority to regulate cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco), the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) studied the use of menthol in cigarettes and issued a report and set of recommendations on March 18, 2011.

The TPSAC report contained numerous conclusions, and several of the most significant conclusions are as follows:

(1)        The evidence does not indicate increased disease risks in smokers of menthol cigarettes compared to non-menthol cigarettes.

(2)        The availability of menthol cigarettes has led to an increase in the number of smokers and that this increase does have an adverse public health impact in the United States.

(3)        The removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit the public health in the United States.

(4)        A potential exists for contraband menthol cigarettes if the FDA chooses to implement a ban or take some other policy action that restricts the availability of menthol cigarettes, and the FDA would need to assess the potential for contraband menthol cigarettes if such action is contemplated.

In response to the TPSAC report, tobacco industry manufacturers and the three non-voting industry members of TPSAC compiled an industry viewpoint report. The industry's report stated, in part, that the scientific data demonstrates no difference in disease, initiation, cessation or dependence between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes, there is no scientific basis to support the regulation of menthol cigarettes any differently than non-menthol cigarettes and that a ban on menthol cigarettes would result in a dramatically larger illegal cigarette market than currently.

While the FDA has conducted an initial review of the TPSAC and industry reports, the agency has not taken any official action. Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, there is no timetable or requirement that the FDA adopt any regulations regarding menthol in cigarettes.