FDA Panel’s Stance on Menthol Cigarettes Perplexes Tobacco Critics

Although the US Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee acknowledges that menthol cigarettes have an adverse impact on public health, it remains to be seen whether the agency will ban their sale. (Image: JAMA, ©AMA)

Some public health advocates are perplexed by a 231-page report released last week by a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee that documented the adverse impact of menthol cigarettes on public health but then stopped short of recommending a ban on the sale of such products.

Although some critics of tobacco products hailed the report’s conclusions about the health effects of menthol cigarettes, others were puzzled that the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee’s report did not urge a ban of these products by the FDA, which was given regulatory oversight of tobacco in 2009. Such a ban on the sale of candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes was enacted on September 22, 2009.

A report issued today by the 9-member FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Shadow Panel acknowledged the scientific rigor of the advisory panel’s report but added that such data miss the larger issue. “The big mystery and disappointment is why the committee did not recommend the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace,” the report said. The Shadow Panel, cochaired by Alan Blum, MD, Director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, describes itself as “a group of experts in the public health practice of tobacco control” that follows the actions of the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.

“We believe that the FDA is digging a hole for itself by trying to provide a scientific argument for increased addiction, morbidity, or mortality attributable to menthol cigarettes,” the group’s report said. “The central question is not a scientific one, but a marketing matter.”

Investors also appeared to take note that the FDA committee’s report lacked a call to ban menthol cigarettes. Lorillard Inc, maker of the best-selling menthol cigarette in the United States, saw its share price increase by nearly 9% (from $80.27 to $87.41) on the day the FDA report was made public.

Categories: Health Policy, Public Health, Tobacco