U.S. - Bill for FDA to regulate tobacco BAN MENTHOL..

April 7, 2009 - H.R. 1256, the Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act was passed by the House of Representatives. The bill in its present form gives the FDA limited authority to monitor smoking products and ban flavored cigarettes -- such as candy-flavored or spice-flavored smokes -- with an exception for menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Menthol is responsible for the cooling, minty flavor of peppermint and is the most widely used cigarette flavoring. It is the most popular cigarette choice of African-American smokers and under this law, will receive special protection. The reason menthol is seen as politically off limits is that mentholated brands are so crucial to the American cigarette industry. They make up close to 30 percent of the $70 billion American cigarette market. Prior to Barack Obama's presidency Philip Morris USA (PM) support of the bill was needed; it was felt that without PM's lobbying support the legislation might have no chance of passage.

Hoping to lure a new generation of smokers, tobacco companies routinely manipulate levels of menthol so that their cigarettes prove more appealing and less harsh to novice users, Boston researchers reported yesterday. Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health scoured thousands of pages of industry documents from the 1980s through 2006 and commissioned laboratory tests of cigarettes to confirm a long-suspected link between menthol levels and marketing strategies. A 1987 internal memo from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., maker of the Salem brand, which uses menthol, summarized the benefits of low-level menthol cigarettes: "Smoother, more refreshing tobacco taste." Such a product, the memo said, would be a "proven winner" among 18- to 24-year-olds. (Menthol the bait to trap smokers, researchers say by Stephen Smith, Boston Globe, 7/17/2008.)

Among blacks who were current smokers 80.4% used menthol cigarettes in the past month (2005-2006). (National Survey on Drug Use and Health Cigarette Use Amongst Blacks 2005-2006) Nearly one-fourth of blacks aged 12 or older were current smokers (i.e. - used cigarettes in the past month). According to the U.S. Surgeon General, African Americans carry the highest health burden for smoking of any ethnic group; African-Americans have more illnesses, have lower survival rates, and die at greater rates than white Americans. More that 45,000 African Americans die from smoking-related diseases every year.

Tobacco-related cancers account for approximately 45% of the incidence of cancer in African-American men and 25% of the incidence in African-American women. The incidence of oral cavity and pharynx cancer in black men exceeds that in white men by 49.1%. The incidence of lung and bronchus cancer in black men exceeds white men by 40.7%. And to a somewhat lesser degree, the same pattern is true for women. Furthermore, African-American smokers (women in particular) have significantly higher lung cancer rates for any given level of smoking. Black men who smoke are 48 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white male smokers

In addition to mortality, African-Americans suffer greater morbidity than do white Americans. For instance, even though African-American women smoke fewer cigarettes than white American women, African-Americans have lost greater permanent lung capacity.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of African-Americans. Incidents of heart failure before 50 years of age is substantially more common among blacks than among whites. Blacks tend to develop heart failure 20 years earlier than whites, a long-running study shows. African American men were 30% more likely to die from heart disease, as compared to non-Hispanic white men. African American adults were 30% more likely than their white adult counterparts to have a stroke.

We have waited for many years for federal tobacco regulation let's produce the best piece of legislation possible. No longer are special concessions for PM and other tobacco companies necessary for this bill to become law. APRIL 2009 - is Minority Health Month..and it is only fitting that the minorities affected most (e.g., by menthol in cigarettes--Black America) be considered in this bill. Seven former federal health secretaries have signed a letter urging that menthol be banned as an ingredient in tobacco products.

Meanwhile the chief executive of Lorillard Inc., the maker of the number one menthol cigarette in the U.S. - Newport - received a compensation package valued at more than $15.3 million for 2008.

A few related paper: Menthol - More Than a Flavoring in Mentholated Cigarettes..; More - Lorillard-Newport - FDA proposed tobacco regulation..; Congressional Black Caucus - Menthol Exemption..; Black Lawmakers Want to Limit Use of Menthol Cigarettes...

Click on image to enlarge..; California Department of Health.