Lifestyle & Belief

US health watchdog moves closer to regulating menthol cigarettes


Marlboro cigarettes.


Joe Raedle

Menthol cigarette lovers, start worrying: a new report by the United States Food and Drug Administration has found that the minty smokes "raise critical public health questions," and may be more difficult to give up than the regular variety. 

Regulators at the FDA found that about 30 percent of adult smokers and about 40 percent of young smokers use menthol cigarettes, which contain a flavor additive that may help to "smooth" the effects of smoke — and make it harder for menthol users to quit. 

"Today I cannot tell you that menthol cigarettes are more addictive," said lead paper author Nadine I. Kabbani of George Mason University in Virginia, according to the Los Angeles Times. "But I can tell you that they're increasingly found to have biological and biophysical properties that go beyond flavor."

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The FDA is now calling for public input on the effects of menthol cigarettes. It's also funding three menthol-related studies, including one that will attempt to determine if genetic differences in taste may explain why menthols are more popular among certain ethnic groups. 

Seventy-five percent of African-American smokers and about 30 percent of Latino smokers prefer them, according to the LA Times, as opposed to 20 percent of non-Latino whites — raising concerns among African-American interest groups that a ban could merely create a unregulated, underground market. 

Menthol cigarette usage has increased from 33.9 percent of US smokers in 2008 to 37.5 percent in 2011, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study. 

Shares of tobacco companies dipped Tuesday after the FDA report was released, writes Bloomberg, on the heels of industry fears that stricter regulations on menthol cigarettes could be imminent — although none have been mandated at this time.