Tobacco companies could face limits on how they'll be able to sell menthol cigarettes in the U.S. if federal regulators determine flavored menthol in cigarettes encourages people to smoke more than plain tobacco cigarettes do.
The Food and Drug Administration released an independent review Tuesday that concluded flavored smoke poses a higher health risk than plain tobacco smoke and reiterated a 2011 finding that flavoring leads to an increase in smokers and makes quitting harder.
The review says that removing menthol cigarettes from the market would eventually benefit public health; however, it does not contradict menthol advocates, such as Lorillard Inc. (NYSE:LO), that say that menthol smokers are not at any higher risk of disease or exposed to a greater number of toxins, nor does it make a recommendation on whether to limit or ban menthol in cigarettes.
The agency said that it is now seeking input from the public, health experts and the tobacco industry before it shapes any policy.
"The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "Public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward."
The FDA says that about 30 percent of all adult smokers and more than 40 percent of all youth smokers report smoking menthol cigarettes, and menthol cigarettes represent one of the few growth sectors of the shrinking cigarette business.
The open solicitation, called the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), will be available for public comment for 60 days.