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Menthol cigarettes: Addictive qualities reignite FDA controversy

Menthol cigarette smokers might be forced to switch to regular cigarettes or be motivated to quit the habit as the Food and Drug Administration focuses new attention on the mint-flavored tobacco product.

Based on new research that argues menthol cigarettes are more addictive than regular cigarettes, the FDA has announced a new round of efforts to regulate the use of menthol as a tobacco additive and opened a 60-day period of public comment. As of Wednesday afternoon, none had been received.

The announcement follows recent action in the European parliament banning menthol and other strongly flavored cigarettes as part of a series of measures aimed at curbing smoking in the European Union.

It also comes as the FDA faces criticism from other foreign nations for banning clove cigarettes, but not menthol cigarettes.

Last year, the World Trade Organization found the U.S. in violation of trade rules as a result of the FDA's action. While banned clove cigarettes were manufactured primarily in Indonesia, legal menthol cigarettes were manufactured mostly in the United States. 

The trade organization said that the U.S. should either allow imports of Indonesian clove cigarettes or ban menthol cigarettes.

In the U.S., menthol cigarettes account for roughly a third of all cigarette sales. However, menthol cigarettes account for roughly 75% of cigarette sales among African Americans and roughly 30% of Latino smokers. By contrast, just over 20% of whites smoke menthol cigarettes.

In releasing a comprehensive review of research on menthol's effects on smokers, the FDA conceded that tobacco flavored with peppermint oil extract likely poses no greater disease risk to smokers than does unflavored tobacco. But its 153-page report concluded that menthol in tobacco is linked to “altered physiological responses to tobacco smoke.”  Those, in turn, may contribute to its addictive qualities.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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