The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee has suggested to the Food and Drug Administration that menthol cigarettes be banned. Menthol is a substance that is made in the laboratory from peppermint and other mint oils and behaves as a weak opioid. It is present in the vast majority of cough drops to alleviate a sore throat because it acts locally as an anesthetic and protects against irritants. Based on data, the people on the panel feel that menthol reduces the irritation that nicotine causes, making smoking more pleasant which make make people more likely to become addicted to nicotine.

The committee told explained to Yahoo! HealthDay that their minty flavor makes them attractive to youth and the majority of black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes simply because of how they are marketed. It seems as though the tobacco industry has found the cigarette that both recruits and retains smokers. One study showed that menthol cigarettes are the preferred by 81 percent and 85 percent of blacks middle school and high school smokers, respectively. There is also proof that people who smoke menthols try more times to quit than other smokers and are more likely to be unsuccessful.  Experts on the committee believe that the minty fresh cigarette “contributes to nicotine dependence in at least the 30 percent of adult smokers”

The tobacco industry actually used to tout the health benefits of smoking menthol cigarettes but stopped doing that in the 1950s. Yet the strategy of old has a lingering effect on current advertising, using words such a “refreshing” and “soothing” and the color green, suggesting that a cigarette with synthetic flavoring is natural and healthy. It should be noted that menthol itself does not pose a health hazard or make cigarettes less healthy.

The advisory committee working on this issue was developed by the FDA as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which became law in June 2009. It gave the FDA power to regulate selling, the content and marketing of tobacco products. Physicians, scientists, public health experts make up the nine members that can vote to make recommendations. Three people from the tobacco industry also sit on the committee but cannot vote. Any public health issues related to tobacco products are reviewed by this committee and based on their findings, they submit a final report along with their nonbinding recommendations to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

The health risks posed by cigarettes are well known by now and it is because of the many carcinogens and other chemicals present in them. It is also well known that the tobacco industry will do whatever they can to make cigarette smoking more appealing. It appears that menthol is the yummy icing on a disgusting cake that is linked to many health problems, most notably lung cancer. I think a ban on menthol in cigarettes is an excellent idea and if people can still enjoy inhaling all those chemicals and risking their health, then fine. At least they have made their decision based on reality instead of thinking that a flavorful cigarette is somehow “healthier.”

Image courtesy of juxtapozerz


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