July 19, 2010 - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee wrapped up a second day of hearings, July 16th on tobacco industry research into menthol with a call for more data from the companies. FDA CTP Scientific Advisory Committee to meet - menthol..)
Several members of a key federal tobacco panel appeared skeptical yesterday about cigarette companies' claims that menthol has little effect on whether smokers get hooked.
The panel, which met this week in Gaithersburg, Md., will recommend how or if the FDA should regulate menthol -- including possibly banning the basic flavoring preferred by about a third of smokers.
Legislation last year giving the FDA authority over tobacco products ordered the agency to explore action on menthol, out of concern that both teenage smokers and African-Americans tend to favor mentholated cigarettes -- approximately seven in 10 African American smokers use menthols, in fact.
Jack E. Henningfield, one of the nine voting members of the panel and a researcher at a Maryland consulting firm, said he believed menthol has a role in people starting smoking and whether they become dependent on nicotine, the addictive compound in tobacco. He said he also believed menthol influenced a smoker's ability to quit. "These [issues] have to be addressed," he said, adding that he didn't think menthol should escape regulatory oversight.
"Menthol affects how people smoke," said panel member Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, a medical professor at the University of California at San Francisco, pointing to industry studies showing menthol smokers went through fewer cigarettes in a day.
Benowitz said industry analyses showing little difference in nicotine exposure for menthol smokers really meant those smokers were puffing more intensively on their cigarettes, which typically have more "tar" and nicotine than so-called "lights" blends. Benowitz said that kind of smoking is more likely to cause addiction, even if smokers consumed fewer cigarettes.
And panel member Patricia Nez Henderson, of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health, after apologizing to the panel for the role her people had in introducing tobacco to the world, said the group needed to dig into the reasons why so many African-Americans smoke menthol cigarettes. "Something is happening inside African-American as well as Asian communities, where rates are so much higher," she said. "To understand that is very critical."
Earlier, the companies presented hundreds of pages of studies while their scientists and marketing executives testified for most of a day and a morning. "We believe the weight of scientific information presented at the [committee] meeting this week supports the position that cigarettes with menthol should remain a choice for the millions of adults who prefer them," said Steve Callahan, a spokesman for Altria Group Ltd.
After the industry representatives finished yesterday, representatives from the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, the Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership, and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Network called on the panel to ban menthol. "Menthol makes the poison go down easier," said Phillip Gardiner, a University of California public health researcher whose work has focused on African-American smokers of menthol cigarettes.
Reference: FDA panel wants more menthol data by DAVID RESS, Richmond TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER, 7/17/2010.
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