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    AWMA Takes Turn in Menthol Debate

    Testimony heats up as the FDA's report on menthol draws near.

    SILVER SPRING, Md. -- With less than a week to go before the Food and Drug Administration's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) is set to turn in its nonbinding recommendations on the use of menthol, the committee continues to hear testimony on the hot button issue.

    American Wholesale Marketers Association president and chief executive officer Scott Ramminger took his turn before the TPSAC yesterday afternoon and expressed "serious concern that a ban on menthol cigarettes would be ineffective and create a significant contraband market with ill-effects for our members and others."

    "When Congress passed the tobacco control law, it handed the FDA -- and this advisory committee, by extension -- a set of important and demanding tasks affecting tobacco manufacturing, sales and distribution," he said in his testimony. "AWMA has a front‐row seat on many of the ramifications currently before TPSAC of whether to recommend banning menthol cigarettes. We are concerned about the very real possibility that banning menthol will only create a large contraband market."

    Ramminger also urged the committee members to rely on proven science when they ready their final report. "AWMA's members are often affected by science‐based policy decisions by government regulatory bodies," he said. "While we are not experts on science, we do have grave concerns whenever government agencies justify a regulatory action on tenuous links or preconceived notions involving a product and a purported effect. On menthol, we take note that one of your draft reports said, and I quote, 'the evidence is insufficient to conclude that smokers of menthol cigarettes face a different risk of tobacco‐caused diseases than smokers of non‐menthol cigarettes.' To our analysis, this appears to be a controlling conclusion. If menthol cigarettes have the same health effects as non‐menthol cigarettes, how can the federal government justify a ban of menthol cigarettes?"

    Furthermore, Ramminger questioned what would happen if solid data is not used in policy decisions. "The question you face is this: What happens if a federal edict is issued that lacks credibility with the public? Common sense tells us that a decision that lacks credibility will be disregarded by the public and exploited by black market operators. The end result will adversely affect our members' livelihoods, cost jobs, and lead to sales of unregulated cigarettes to underage youths. Those are the dangers of issuing an edict that has no credibility," he testified.

    He also said that if menthol was banned black market and contraband cigarettes would move in a fill the void. An expanded black market, Ramminger testified, would reduce government revenue and make cigarettes more accessible to underage smokers. "If contraband cigarettes are sold at lower prices -- a distinct possibility given historical examples -- it is likely that banning menthol will do little to diminish overall smoking," he said. "It is possible to imagine a scenario where cheaper cigarettes could increase tobacco use among youths. And of course, all of these ramifications would directly affect jobs and the livelihoods of our members."

    The TPSAC is due to issue its final, nonbinding recommendation on menthol use Wednesday, March 23.


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