The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a study on Tuesday July 23 [PDF] concluding that smoking cigarettes containing menthol — a minty-tasting alcohol compound — make it easier to start smoking and harder to quit.
The study, which reviews decades of scientific literature, concludes:
... adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults. Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction. Menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking.
Menthol has some pain-relieving properties — we put it in cough drops to relieve minor throat irritation for example — which could be what makes a habit of smoking menthol cigarettes easier to pick up.
There's a public comment period of 60 days on the review before the FDA will make a decision to ban or keep menthol flavoring around.
The decision will still take years before becoming a reality and could just end up being a restriction on marketing or advertising, or a maximum limit on the amount of menthol allowed in cigarettes.
This new information comes after a study published in the Journal of Nicotine And Tobacco Research in 2012 found that menthol smokers were less likely to die of lung cancer specifically, though it didn't look at other diseases caused by smoking.
The just-published study agrees that "there is little evidence to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more or less toxic or contribute to more disease risk to the user than nonmenthol cigarettes."
But the report argues that because menthol makes picking up a smoking habit easier and is more attractive to teenagers, they pose a public health threat.
This is just the latest step that the government has taken against flavored cigarettes. All flavors of cigarettes other than menthols, including clove cigarettes and fruity flavors, were made illegal by Congress in 2009 as a part of the Family Smoking Prevention And Tobacco Control Act.
Then, in 2011, a Congressionally mandated committee of experts convened by the FDA found that menthol had a negative effect on public health, according to The New York Times.
Tobacco giants R.J Reynolds and Lorillard fought back against this committee with a lawsuit, suggesting the members are biased and influenced by special interests.
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