AMA Board To Decide Whether Organization Supports Tobacco Bill That Would Not Ban Menthol as an Additive
On Tuesday, the American Medical Association voted to refer to its board the decision of whether to endorse legislation (HR 1108, S 625) that would give FDA the authority to regulate tobacco and outlaw most flavor additives, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. The decision "effectively silenc[es] the doctors who wanted the organization to speak out against the exemption" of menthol-flavored cigarettes, the AP/Chronicle reports.
The legislation would outlaw flavor additives such as mint, clove and vanilla. In addition, FDA would be permitted to ban any other additives found to make cigarettes more addictive or harmful. The bill also would allow FDA to require new health warnings and prohibit labels such as "light" and "mild." Menthol flavoring was left out of the bill as a concession to the tobacco industry, without which the bill would not have a chance of passing, according to AMA President Ron Davis (Johnson, AP/Houston Chronicle, 6/17).
Three out of four black smokers use menthol-flavored cigarettes; menthol is the most widely used flavoring in cigarettes. According to the letter, 80% of black teens who smoke use menthol brands. Like other additives, menthol, which is derived from mint and also is available in synthetic form, can help mask the harsh taste of tobacco. Five former HHS secretaries and two others recently sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to ban menthol flavoring in tobacco products (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 6/5).
"If we're banning things such as clove and peppermint, then we should ban menthol," former HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan said. He added, "If it doesn't happen, this bill will be discriminatory against African-Americans." National African American Tobacco Prevention Network Executive Director William Robinson said, "We understand from an industry perspective why menthol is off the table," but "part of it is because menthol represents almost 30% of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market."
Bill Phelps -- spokesperson for Philip Morris, which makes several menthol brands and supports the bill -- said FDA could ban menthol if it were found to be detrimental to health, but "[b]ased on our scientific judgment, menthol does not increase the inherent hazards of smoking" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 6/17).