Menthol myth goes up in smoke

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Last summer, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) released a report that was supposed to help guide the FDA in deciding whether to ban menthol cigarettes from the market. Instead of issuing a specific recommendation, however, the TPSAC report merely suggested that the agency should consider all of the potential effects of a menthol ban if it does consider such a policy. Unlike TPSAC, however, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross has a strong opinion on the potential menthol proscription: He thinks it s a bad idea. The rationale for such a ban is flawed, and the repercussions will be dangerous for public health, he says.

Banning menthol is a simplistic approach to reducing the toll of cigarette smoking, Dr Ross continues. One rationale for such a ban is the myth that mentholated cigarettes are more dangerous to one s health than non-menthols an idea that s refuted in ACSH s publication on this subject. In fact, a new FDA study just published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research finds that older menthol smokers have an overall 41 percent reduced rate of lung cancer mortality compared to regular cigarette smokers.

For the study, Dr. Brian Rostron from the FDA s Center for Tobacco Products analyzed data on nearly 5,000 smokers from a U.S. national health survey in 1987. After matching study participants to mortality incidence using the National Death Index, he found that, among smokers aged 50 and older, menthol smokers had a lower lung cancer mortality risk. Though Dr. Rostron can t explain what factors account for the difference, Dr. Ross points out that clearly, the health risks associated with menthol cigarettes are not greater compared to regular cigarettes.

But perhaps most significantly, Dr. Ross adds, It s important to remember that mandating the removal of menthol from cigarettes is likely to lead to unintended consequences that would outweigh any potential benefits. For instance, such a ban would create a black market for menthol cigarettes, which will provide minors with ready access to smoking something we d all like to prevent.