TPSAC's Menthol Report Recommends Removing Menthol Cigarettes from the Market but Could Create Demand for Contraband or Mentholation Kits
by Brian Malkin
On March 18, FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee ("TPSAC") posted its Report and Recommendations on the Public Health Impact on Menthol Cigarettes on FDA's Internet website. TPSAC was required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act ("Tobacco Control Act") to provide its final report to FDA on March 23, 2010. Interesting, while TPSAC's charge was to report on menthol in cigarettes and virtually all cigarettes contain some menthol, the recommendations are phrased in terms of menthol cigarettes, because, as TPSAC rationalized, the Tobacco Control Act asked for a review of menthol as a "characterizing flavor" of a tobacco product or tobacco smoke.
Based on the previously-disclosed chapters that we discussed here, it is not entirely surprising that--despite not finding menthol are inherently more harmful-- TPSAC's overall recommendation was: "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Following this recommendation, TPSAC cautioned that while a ban on menthol cigarettes could create a demand for contraband menthol cigarettes or mentholation kits, a menthol cigarette ban "could result in a substantial reduction in cigarette smoking." TPSAC reached these conclusions following sufficient evidence that menthol cigarettes, which currently account for about 30 percent of the cigarette market: a) increase experimentation and regular smoking, b) increase the likelihood of addiction and degree of addition for youths (but not necessarily adults), c) result in a lower likelihood of smoking cessation success in African Americans, and d) increase the prevalence of smoking if such cigarettes were not available, among other things. TPSAC qualified these conclusions as "more likely than not" rather than definitive statements.
Commenting on the Report, Center for Tobacco Products Director Lawrence R. Deyton, M.D., M.S.P.H. emphasized that the Report is merely recommendations to FDA and that "receipt of the Report does not have a direct immediate effect on the availability of menthol products in the marketplace." Deyton further noted: "Although there is no required deadline or timeline for FDA to act on the issue of menthol in cigarettes, we recognize the strong interest in this issue among all stakeholders and will continue to communicate the steps the FDA is taking as it determines what future regulatory actions, if any, are warranted. FDA intends to provide its first progress report on the review of the science in approximately 90 days."
According to the Tobacco Control Act, TPSAC's next report, due a year from now, will be on dissolvable tobacco products. As the Menthol Report is now the model, one might suspect a similar approach will be followed, perhaps with a similar set of conclusions and recommendations.