The use of menthol cigarettes is rising among adolescents and is "very high" among minority youth, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel said in partial draft report released Monday.
Brands like Lorillard's Newport account for nearly one-third of America's $83billion annual cigarette sales, and more and more of those come from minority youth smokers.
A draft report by the Food and Drug Administration in Washington found more than half of Hispanic teenage smokers use menthols, and there is a 'significant increase' in white youths smoking them, too.
The report is due next week and the FDA has released some draft chapters of the report, but what's been released so far hasn't contained any recommendations about menthol. The report could call for an outright ban on menthol cigarettes or tighter restrictions of some kind. The panel's chairman Jonathan Samet, a professor at the University of Southern California who has studied smoking- related health issues, said "we intend to provide some sort of overall conclusions and recommendations," suggesting the panel won't simply call for more study of the issue.
Menthol cigarettes account for about 30% of total cigarette sales in the U.S. The issue is of major importance to Lorillard Inc. (LO) the maker of the leading menthol brand, Newport. The product accounts for roughly 90% of the company's sales. Altria Group Inc. (MO) and Reynolds American Inc. (RIA) also market menthol cigarettes but aren't as reliant on them for overall sales.
The FDA was given the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009. As part of the tobacco law, all tobacco flavorings except for menthol were banned on concerns the flavors entice children and adolescents to start smoking. The law called for an FDA advisory panel to report on the public health effects of menthol in cigarettes. The FDA doesn't have a required deadline or timeline to act on the panel's recommendations.
One question the FDA tobacco panel is weighing is whether menthol masks the harshness of tobacco and makes it easier to smoke cigarettes and harder to quit.
The tobacco industry has said there’s no evidence that menthol in cigarettes makes it more likely people will start smoking compared to regular cigarettes, and that menthol cigarettes carry the same risks as regular cigarettes.
More than 80% of African-American adolescent smokers and more than half of Hispanic smokers ages 12 to 17 use menthol cigarettes.
Smoking among teenagers has declined in the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, 19.5% of students in grades nine through 12 reported smoking in the past month, compared with 34.8% in 1999. About 21% of U.S. adults smoke.
"Use of menthol cigarettes if rising among adolescents, driven by a significant increase in the number of white youth ages 12 to 17 who are smoking menthol cigarettes," the draft chapter said.
Overall smoking among teenagers has declined in the last decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, 19.5% of students in grades nine through 12 reported smoking in the past month compared to 34.8% in 1999. About 21% of U.S. adults smoke.