FRIDAY, March 18 (HealthDay News) -- In a long-awaited decision, an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday said that menthol cigarettes are harmful and their removal "from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States."
The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee also said that menthols' minty flavor may make smoking more attractive, spurring youth and especially blacks (who tend to favor menthol cigarettes) to try the habit.
"Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking," the panelists said in their report. "Furthermore, the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth."
In fact, the experts said that a close look at the data suggests that menthol cigarettes "contributes to nicotine dependence in at least the 30 percent of adult smokers" who use them.
The panel did say that menthol cigarettes pose no greater health risk to smokers than other cigarettes in terms of their odds for lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.
Still, pulling menthols off the market could save many lives, the panel said. "Assuming the best estimates, by 2020 about 17,000 premature deaths will occur and about 2.3 million people will have started smoking, beyond what would have occurred absent availability of menthol cigarettes," they concluded.
While the FDA does not have to abide by the advice of its advisory panels, it typically does.
In a statement released Friday, Dr. Lawrence R. Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said that, "although there is no required deadline or timeli
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