FDA Queries the Public on Menthol

By  Thomas A. Briant, Executive Director

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While the FDA is not under any mandate to adopt additional regulations on menthol cigarettes, the agency has reached out to the public for more input on the issue of menthol in cigarettes.
 
In July 2013, the FDA issued a report, “Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol vs. Non-Menthol Cigarettes,” that concluded, in part, that menthol cigarettes are not associated with an increase in disease risk vs. non-menthol cigarettes, but may result in a public health impact. As a follow-up to this preliminary scientific report, the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking requesting the public’s input on the use of menthol in cigarettes. 
 
In this rulemaking notice, the FDA is asking the public to respond to questions about menthol in cigarettes, many of which require reliance on scientific data and studies. For this reason, NATO and its members have taken the opportunity to provide feedback on several questions posed by the FDA. 
Specifically, the FDA has asked for the public’s input on whether to propose additional restrictions on the sale, distribution, advertising and promotion of menthol cigarettes. 
 
What follows is a summary of NATO’s comments submitted to the FDA, which outline why the FDA should not adopt additional restrictions on menthol and the consequences that such further regulations would have on retailers and the public. 
 

More Restrictions Unnecessary

NATO argues that establishing additional restrictions on the retail sale of menthol cigarettes is simply unnecessary. Retailers take the responsibility of selling tobacco products very seriously, and they are not in the business of selling tobacco products to underage youth. This high level of responsibility is evidenced by the FDA’s state compliance inspection program, in which approximately 95% of retailers inspected successfully pass the inspections without any violations, including not selling tobacco products to minors. Given that the FDA’s main goal is to reduce youth access to and use of tobacco products, this high level of vigilance and compliance by retailers demonstrates that there is no need to consider additional retail sales regulations on menthol cigarettes.
 
Rather than impose more regulations, NATO recommends that the FDA should research the phenomenon known as the “enabling adult,” wherein adult-aged friends, family members and even parents obtain cigarettes legally and then provide them to underage youth. With one of the FDA’s primary goals being to reduce youth smoking, addressing the problem of the “enabling adult” and taking action to educate the public that adults should not provide tobacco products to underage youth would likely have a more positive effect on reducing youth smoking than adopting further unwarranted restrictions on the retail sale of menthol cigarettes. In other words, there needs to be a societal attitude change that does not tolerate adults purchasing and providing tobacco products to minors.
 
Moreover, the FDA’s question about establishing more sales restrictions on menthol cigarettes overlooks the numerous regulations already in place on the sale of all cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes. These regulations include: 
 
▶ A minimum legal purchase age of 18;
▶ Age verification of customers younger than 27 years old;
▶ A direct, face-to-face exchange of cigarettes between a store clerk and the customer;
▶ No self-service cigarette displays except in adult-only stores; 
▶ A ban on free samples of cigarettes; and 
▶ A prohibition on the sale of cigarettes in packages of less than 20. 

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