Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Misplaced Priorities: FDA Worries About Fake Cigarettes While Youth are Drawn to the Real Thing, Menthol Style

While the FDA and anti-smoking groups continue to devote their attention to the non-existent problem of electronic cigarette use among youth, the agency's lack of action on menthol is leading to increased smoking among the nation's youth. According to an article at the Business Insider, Camel's market share among 12-17 year-old youth has increased by 21%, a jump to attributable to Camel Crush, a menthol cigarette variety that contains a capsule that when crushed, releases menthol.

According to the article: " investors might want to consider Camel, which has increased its market share among 12-17 year olds by 21 percent—a gain attributed to the Camel Crush cigarette which switches from plain to menthol when you squeeze it. And, of course, kids love Joe Camel. Newport is also gaining ground among young people. ... Kids tend toward premium cigarettes because they smoke less, and they have a strong and growing preference for menthol."

Despite the growing preference for menthol, the FDA has so far punted on the opportunity to eliminate menthol cigarettes. At the same time, while few if any kids are using electronic cigarettes, the FDA has made every attempt to ban or discourage the use of these products.

The Rest of the Story

This is a case of misplaced priorities:

Researchers are having trouble finding a single nonsmoking youth who uses electronic cigarettes, yet the FDA is doing everything it can to get these products off the market.

Evidence mounts that menthol cigarette use is skyrocketing among youth and the FDA sits on its hands and does nothing to combat the problem.

There is also new evidence that menthol cigarettes serve as a starter product for youth. The lead investigator of that study stated: "We know from national surveys that the youngest smokers disproportionately use menthol cigarettes. Since our study followed a cohort of the same individuals over time, we have also been able to show that young smokers are more likely to switch from menthol to nonmenthol cigarettes early in their smoking careers, providing further evidence that menthols serve as a starter product for young smokers."

Unfortunately, the FDA has so far demonstrated mixed-up priorities: the agency has focused on the problems least relevant to protecting the public's health, such as electronic cigarettes, dissolvable tobacco products, and monitoring substantial equivalence claims, yet has ignored the most relevant problems: real cigarettes, and especially the menthol ones.

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