Can FDA keep kool? TPSAC draft report may indicate otherwise

In a partial draft report released yesterday, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) says menthol cigarette use is on the rise among minority teenagers. Over 80 percent of African American and more than half of Hispanic teenagers who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes, which the committee says is “very high.” As part of an advisory panel to the FDA, TPSAC will hold a public meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss their findings. Upon completion, the report will be submitted to the FDA, which the agency will use as they consider their ruling on whether to ban menthol cigarettes. But Lorillard Inc., Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris, makers of menthol cigarettes, don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to demonstrate that people are more likely to start smoking menthol cigarettes than regular cigarettes.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross adds that “there’s nothing new in this report. The scientific evidence that menthol flavoring encourages younger people to smoke over and above the population share is sketchy and mostly based upon flawed studies, which I reviewed in detail before my presentation to TPSAC in November. In fact, according to the CDC, smoking among teenagers has declined in the past decade. About 19.5 percent of students have reported smoking in the past month compared to 34.8 percent in 1999.”

The TPSAC — some of whose members have been accused of having conflicts of interest, rendering their objectivity suspect — will issue its final recommendations to the FDA by the end of the month.

Commenting on his forecast for the FDA’s pending decision, Dr. Ross doesn’t believe the agency will impose an outright ban on menthol cigarettes, but “they will likely use various means and mechanisms to restrict or lower the amount of menthol found in cigarettes. The ramifications of banning menthol cigarettes, a product that is preferred by 13 to 14 million smokers with a $30 billion market, cannot possibly be eradicated without severe repercussions.”