That's no coincidence, say smoking opponents: The tobacco industry has long targeted youth and minorities for menthol cigarette marketing, even manipulating menthol content in different brands in an effort to recruit new smokers among youth, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The debate over how menthols should be regulated was last discussed in July, during the second round of hearings held by the tobacco products advisory committee.
The committee was established by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in June 2009. The legislation gave the FDA unprecedented power to restrict the marketing of tobacco products.
While the law bans cigarette makers from adding candy or fruit-like flavors such as clove, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa or strawberry to cigarettes, legislators hedged when it came to menthols, the most popular flavoring by far.
Although menthol was not banned from cigarettes, the law stressed that nothing prevented it from regulating menthol as well. In fact, the act required the advisory committee to consider menthol cigarettes' impact on public health -- including its use among children and minorities -- as its first order of business.
Anti-smoking advocates say there is no evidence that menthols -- which account for an estimated 33.9 percent of the U.S. cigarette market -- are less deadly than any other cigarette. Research from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey suggests that they are more addictive, making it harder for smokers to quit, particularly blacks and Latinos.
During previous hearings, tobacco industry representatives defended their products, saying menthols are no more harmful than other cigarettes and should not be singled out for a ban.
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