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April, 2010


New restrictions on menthol?

In late March, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will convene a two-day meeting to study the effects of menthol-flavored cigarettes. Menthols have long held a stronghold in the US cigarette market, and is currently smoked by 12 mn Americans. It has been particularly popular amongst black American smokers, where some 75% smoke menthol cigarettes.

When the FDA gained oversight of tobacco products in mid-2009, they quickly implemented a ban on all “characterizing” flavors (or non-tobacco flavorings) in cigarettes. This meant no more clove, vanilla, or fruit flavored cigarettes - all of which were minuscule niche markets. The bill - frustratingly - also included very vague language regarding flavored cigars, which is still being sorted out nearly a year after the fact. However, the FDA’s ruling on characterizing flavors included one giant hole: menthols. Why this one exception? Bread and circuses. If they got rid of menthol flavoring, there would be mass discontent amongst a large segment of the population who had a part of their daily ritual taken from them. Everyone has their own personal daily routine. If your morning coffee, your favorite daily TV program, or your favorite Tuesday lunch spot was taken away from you by writ of government, you may just be willing to give your vote to the politician who promised to bring it back. The exact same reason why many local governments bodies would love to ban the sale of tobacco all together, but they won’t, because they know the inevitable consequences of that action.

So, do not expect this FDA conference to ban menthol flavoring. It will never happen in one move. What this may represent, however, is the beginning of a slow snuffing-out of menthol. Language will be agreed on, long-term courses of action will be set in place. Perhaps a higher tax will be recommended for menthols, or restrictions on advertising such as what language is permissable including terms like “cool” or “fresh.” And soon, menthol may very well become come the new sub-enemy of choice for anti-tobacco groups - like “candy” flavored cigarettes or cartoon spokesman were before. And from there, the local governments will jump in with their restrictions on menthols, followed by national government restrictions down the line.

All just a theory, of course. But one which has some recent history to back it up.

- E. D.

Tobacco International - April, 2010


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