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Big tobacco fights FDA on menthol cigarette ban

PR Newswire | 5/11/2011, 5 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to weigh a potential menthol cigarette ban. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Center for American Progress and Legacy® called for menthol cigarettes to be taken off the market, citing key findings published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). New studies show that not only could a ban prevent up to 600,000 smoking-related premature deaths by 2050, a third of those from the African American community alone, but a ban is supported by a majority of Americans (56 percent), particularly African Americans (76 percent) who were found to be disproportionately affected.

For decades, the tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes to minorities, and, as a result, the menthol smoking rates among these communities are disproportionately high; 80 percent of African Americans who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes. "With the momentum of this new research and public support for a ban on menthol, now is the time for the FDA to finally act on this important issue. Tobacco is not an equal-opportunity killer, and the link between menthol smoking and African Americans cannot be overemphasized, nor can it be overlooked," said a senior author on all four studies, Dr. David Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy--the organization responsible for commissioning and supporting this new research.

"The American Journal of Public Health is proud to publish this important research at such an opportune time," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). "The consensus of responsible scientists now strongly confirms that menthol flavorings lure youth to start smoking and then make it harder for menthol smokers to quit. We believe, as the majority of Americans do, and the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) has advised the FDA, menthol cigarettes pose a significant public health threat and they should be taken off the market," he said.

"The publication of these studies in the American Journal of Public Health make urgent the need for action to protect the health of Americans--including the health of our young minority citizens--from the adverse health consequences of tobacco, including menthol-flavored cigarettes," said Dr. Louis Sullivan, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

African Americans are further disadvantaged--as one study in the issue found--because though more menthol smokers try to stop, fewer are successful at quitting, especially African Americans. "For too long, African Americans have fallen victim to the tobacco industry's shameless marketing tactics to sell menthol products," said John Payton, who leads the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund.

"It is time the leaders at the FDA use the authority vested in them and take the bold steps necessary to get menthol tobacco products off the shelves and protect the health and save the lives of more African Americans."

One of those articles reported key findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual Social Climate Survey. "Our nationally representative survey data show that more than half of all Americans and as many as three quarters of all African Americans, who have the highest rates of menthol use, support banning menthol," said Dr. Jonathan Klein, director of the Julius B. Richmond Center at the American Academy of Pediatrics. "A majority of African American smokers support a menthol ban."