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FDA Panel: Menthol may raise likelihood of cigarette addiction.

The Los Angeles Times (3/2, Zajac) reports, "Adding menthol to cigarettes may increase the likelihood of addiction and make it easier for young people to start smoking, according to preliminary findings of a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel." The experts on the "panel said the scientific evidence showed that 'menthol has cooling and anesthetic effects that reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke' and this reduction 'could facilitate initiation or early persistence of smoking by youth.'" In addition, "menthol was likely to make low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes more satisfying, 'and smokers who switch to low-yield cigarettes for health concerns may be more likely to continue to smoke rather than quit.'"

        But, the panel of advisers noted, "'The evidence is insufficient' to conclude that menthol smokers face a different disease risk than people who use regular cigarettes," Bloomberg News (3/2, Peterson) reports. They also said, "The availability of menthol cigarettes could have no significant effect on risk for disease outcomes, yet have a significant effect on increasing initiation or reducing the success of cessation. ... The resultant increase in the prevalence of smoking would represent a negative public health impact."

        CQ HealthBeat (3/2, Adams) reports, "FDA officials will take the committee views into consideration as they determine whether to regulate menthol more aggressively. The panel is expected to recommend regulatory actions to the agency by March 23." Notably, "US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who was speaking on Capitol Hill Tuesday at an anti-smoking briefing for congressional aides sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Heart Association, said that more funding is needed to support additional research on the risks of menthol products." Benjamin stated, "No cigarette is safe, menthol or not."

        Reuters (3/2, Heavey) reports that the data in the preliminary report are not conclusive, making it difficult to predict if the FDA will decide to implement stricter regulation, or even an outright ban, of menthol. While the FDA typically adopts the recommendations of its advisory panels, it is not required to do so.

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