THURSDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- The battle over menthol-flavored cigarettes heats up again Thursday as a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel continues a series of hearings on whether to ban the cigarettes.
The FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee consists of nine members and includes doctors, scientists and public health experts. The tobacco industry is represented by three non-voting members. The committee has until next March to report its menthol findings to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Much of the controversy centers on research that shows that children are particularly drawn to menthol cigarettes, with nearly 45 percent of smokers aged 12 to 17 using them, according to a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most black teenaged smokers -- and 82.7 percent of black adult smokers -- favor menthols, the same survey found.
"The manufacturers would have you believe there is not a scintilla of evidence that menthol is more dangerous than other cigarettes to the individual smoker, but we do not agree," said Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the American Legacy Foundation, a smoking prevention and cessation organization in Washington, D.C., founded with funding from the landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and state governments.
"Over 80 percent of African-American smokers smoke menthol, and African-American smokers have the highest rates of lung cancer. We also know African-Americans with lung cancer are more likely to die from lung cancer," she told HealthDay.
In addition, the popularity of menthols among younger, newer smokers suggests that maybe the minty taste does encourage people to start, perhaps by masking the harsh taste of regular cigarettes, Vargyas added.
"We know the younger you are and the newer the smoker you are, the more likely you are to s
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