Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin for Menthol Ban: Surgeon General's Report Fails to Recommend Any Action on Menthol

Last week, I described what I view as a nail in the coffin for any possible FDA ban on menthol cigarettes: a new FDA study showing that menthol cigarette smokers have lower lung cancer risk than smokers of non-menthol cigarettes. Today, I report what I believe is a second nail in the coffin on a menthol cigarette ban: the U.S. Surgeon General's failure to recommend any action on menthol in her comprehensive report on youth smoking.

After reviewing the data regarding the role of menthol in cigarette smoking initiation among youth, the Surgeon General's report considers various options, but concludes only that the issue deserves "continued surveillance."

Among the Surgeon General's findings are the following:

1. "Some studies suggest that mentholated cigarettes increase the addictive potential of smoking among youth (Wackowski and Delnovo, 2007; Hersey et al. 2010). Furthermore, because mentholation can improve the taste of cigarettes for smokers, this additive may facilitate initiation or inhibit quitting (Giovino et al. 2004)."

2. "Adolescent and young adult smokers smoke menthol cigarettes at a higher percentage than any other age group."

3. "there is evidence that highly addictive, smooth-tasting tobacco products (e.g., menthol cigarettes [with lower levels of menthol]) have been modified for this market, raising concerns about how changes in product design may be contributing to an increased likelihood that tobacco will be consumed by young people."

Despite these three major findings, the report concludes only that: "Continued surveillance of menthol cigarettes is warranted."

The Rest of the Story

This essentially amounts to a non-recommendation by the Surgeon General. Despite the conclusion that menthol cigarettes enhance the smoking initiation process among youth, have been modified specifically for the youth market in order to enhance initiation, and are contributing to an increased likelihood that youth will smoke cigarettes, the Surgeon General nevertheless fails to conclude that any action is necessary on menthol cigarettes, other than to merely conduct "continued surveillance."

For those unfamiliar with the technical jargon, "continued surveillance" translates into "do nothing."

Thus, the story here is that the U.S. Surgeon General does not recommend any action on menthol cigarettes, despite their contribution to the problem of youth smoking, which is reviewed in exhausting detail in her 900 page report.

In my view, this is yet another nail in the coffin for any possible FDA ban on menthol cigarettes. If the Surgeon General, after reviewing the evidence and concluding that menthol contributes toward smoking initiation, nevertheless fails to recommend a menthol ban, then there simply exists no scientific analysis of the issue that would lead a government agency to recommend a ban on menthol cigarettes.

Clearly, the politics is so caught up in the science on this issue that it has become clear that menthol cigarettes are here to stay.

Today should be a day of celebration in Greensboro.

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