US regulators on Tuesday released a review of scientific data that shows menthol cigarettes are harder to quit than regular kinds, and asked for public input on a possible ban.
The mint-flavored cigarettes do not appear linked to a higher risk of disease, but do likely pose “a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes,” said the US Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA said it is “seeking additional information to help the agency make informed decisions about menthol in cigarettes.”
The 60-day public comment period relates to “potential regulatory options.”
The FDA’s own independent review of the available scientific literature showed that newer smokers “substantially” prefer menthols.
Menthol smokers are also more likely to smoke their first cigarette within five minutes of waking, suggesting the mint flavor is linked to “increased dependence,” the FDA said.
Menthol smokers, particularly African-Americans, had a harder time quitting than people who smoked regular cigarettes.
“This is consistent with the observation that menthol smokers appear to be more nicotine dependent than non-menthol smokers which can be an important factor in smoking cessation success,” said the FDA review.
Menthol cigarettes make up about one quarter of cigarettes sales in the United States, and are particularly popular among youths and African-American smokers, research has shown.
“Menthol cigarettes raise critical public health questions,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
“The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the public health issues raised by menthol cigarettes, and public input will help us make more informed decisions about how best to tackle this important issue moving forward.”
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called the latest scientific review “strong” and said it “should prompt the FDA to move as quickly as possible to ban menthol cigarettes in the United States.”
The findings echo those from the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which in March 2011 concluded that removing menthols from the marketplace would benefit public health.
Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people annually in the United States and costs $96 billion in health care bills, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said.