Lorillard, Reynolds suing FDA: Upcoming panel report on mentholated cigarettes lacks flavor

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Two of the largest manufacturers of mentholated cigarettes initiated a lawsuit against the FDA Friday to prevent the consideration of an upcoming FDA panel report recommending expanding the current flavored cigarette ban to include menthol varieties.

Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds — makers of the Newport and Kool cigarette brands, respectively — argue that three members of the advisory panel have “severe financial and appearance conflicts of interest and associated biases,” including receipt of funding for research or consultation work from manufacturers of smoking-cessation products.

Predictably, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew Myers, dismisses the tobacco companies’ claims as “putting profits ahead of lives and health.” He further posits the view that, “They fear that the committee, having examined the evidence, will recommend effective actions that reduce or eliminate the lucrative market for menthol cigarettes.”

ACSH’s own report on mentholated cigarettes, however, found no “evidence” that mentholated cigarettes pose any greater adverse health effects than unflavored cigarettes. “Cigarettes are deadly and addictive, but menthol is not part of the problem,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “And even if mentholated cigarettes were banned, smokers who prefer menthol cigarettes will find a way to secure them, from unlicensed sources, or find a way to add menthol to their smokes,” she adds. Rather than promoting public health, as ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross has argued in the past, banning mentholated cigarettes would likely create a black market for contraband mentholated cigarettes:

It is ludicrous to imagine that a significant fraction of menthol smokers will just quit smoking because of the absence of legitimate menthols. Moreover, since menthol smokers actually tend to smoke fewer cigarettes per day than non-menthol smokers, the net result of a menthol ban would very likely be a net increase in cigarette consumption. Some smokers will get the false impression from a menthol ban that non-menthol smokes are somehow safer...

Dr. Whelan added, “Matt Myers’ comments miss the point, intentionally I suspect: the lawsuit targets clear conflict-of-interests among certain members of the committee. Myers chooses to reiterate the evils of Big Tobacco, which while true have nothing to do with the fairness of the committee members.”