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RICHMOND, Va. -- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently conducting an independent review of research on the public health impact of menthol cigarettes, according to an Associated Press report. Members of the agency's Center for Tobacco Products plan to gather menthol studies and submit its review to an external peer review panel in July. According to FDA officials, the agency expects this process to be completed in the fall.
The independent review will ensure the "best available science is used to support regulatory and programmatic decision making," said Jeff Ventura, FDA spokesman.
This follows a March report by the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee that found that taking menthol cigarettes off the market would benefit public health because the flavoring in menthol cigarettes has increased smoking rates, especially among African-Americans, teenagers and people with low incomes, although menthol smokers are not at a higher risk of disease. The committee's recommendations are not binding, but the FDA often follows them.
The committee also found that more research is necessary, and the FDA should monitor the marketing of menthol cigarettes, as well as study the possible effects of contraband menthol cigarettes.
The tobacco industry has spoken out against any possible menthol ban, especially Lorillard Inc., the third-largest tobacco company in the U.S. and maker of Newport cigarettes, the most popular menthol brand on the market.
"We continue to strongly believe that an objective, thorough and rigorous scientific review will lead the agency to conclude that menthol cigarettes do not present any more harm than non-menthol cigarettes," said Gregg Perry, Lorillard spokesman.
A report submitted to the FDA by the tobacco industry acknowledged that all cigarettes are hazardous, but noted a lack of scientific basis to regulate menthols differently from other cigarettes.
Approximately 19 million smokers in the U.S. use menthol cigarettes. A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study found that menthol smokers grew from 31 percent in 2004 to 33.9 percent in 2008, with younger smokers showing the most growth, according to the report.
The results of the FDA's independent review will be available for public comment, according to agency officials.