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Public Health Leaders Urge FDA To Act On Menthol Cigarettes

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Leading national public health advocates filed a Citizen Petition urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of menthol as a characterizing flavoring in cigarettes.

The historic menthol petition was delivered to FDA offices today by the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium on behalf of a long list of co-signing organizations focused on public health in general, and organizations focused on racial and ethnic health outcome disparities in particular.  

In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  Among other things, the law prohibited the use of fruity and candy-like "characterizing flavors" in cigarettes and cigarette smoke.  The flavor prohibition was especially intended to prevent young people from being lured to try—and to become addicted to—a lethal product. 

While menthol was the one flavor that was exempted from this 2009 prohibition, Congress did give the FDA the authority to prohibit menthol if "appropriate for public health."  The law specifically made the issue of menthol in cigarettes a priority for FDA consideration.  The FDA has not yet prohibited menthol.

Following the filing of this Citizen Petition, the FDA is now required to begin a formal consideration process that could include the gathering of public testimony and will result in a formal FDA ruling on the matter.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and the petition stresses that smokers who are young and those who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by the availability of menthol cigarettes.   Nearly half (48 percent) of 12- to 17-year old smokers report menthol cigarette use compared to 32% of adults age 26 or older.  While 24% of white smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, they are used at much higher rates by racial and ethnic minorities, such as African Americans (83 percent), Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders (53 percent), Hispanics or Latinos (32 percent) and Asian Americans (31 percent). 

"It's shameful for our government to ban all cigarette flavorings except the one that is deadliest for communities of color and teens," said Dr. Phil Gardiner of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.  "This is not only a public health issue, but also a social justice issue."

A study published in the American Journal of Public health found that 68% of African Americans support prohibiting menthol flavoring in cigarettes.  A strong majority of white Americans (56%) also support a prohibition on menthol flavoring.

Menthol is a minty flavor that makes cigarettes attractive to many consumers.  The flavor itself is popular with many smokers, and it also produces a cooling sensation that many smokers enjoy, particularly those new to smoking. Tobacco industry marketing of menthol cigarettes has particularly been aimed at African Americans.  Menthol cigarettes constitute about one-third of the American cigarette market.

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