Feds eye new regs on menthol cigarettes

Federal regulators are looking at menthol cigarettes for possible new regulations, arguing that the products raise "critical" health concerns.

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it was beginning the process of regulating the variety of flavored cigarettes by gathering comments from the public.

“Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement. “The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward.”

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Among the scientific data that the FDA is releasing for the public to consider is an evaluation of the health effects of menthol versus regular cigarettes. That study found that the cigarettes could make it easier for people to begin smoking, which poses a greater risk.

“While there is little evidence to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more or less toxic or contribute to more disease risk to the user than nonmenthol cigarettes, adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults,” the report found. “Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction.”

The report concludes that the data “make it likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with nonmenthol cigarettes.”

Tuesday’s announcement reflects the FDA’s “commitment to explore all potential options,” said Mitch Zeller, head of the agency’s tobacco office.

Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, cheered the announcement as “an important next step in addressing the use of menthol in cigarettes.”

“I am pleased that the FDA is now taking this long overdue measure,” he said in a statement. ”I urge its leadership to act swiftly to make a science-based decision on this critical public health concern.”

The FDA was given authority to regulate cigarettes by a 2009 law that ordered it to study the effect of menthol cigarettes.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., and about a quarter of all cigarettes sold in the country are menthols.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the agency’s notice.