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The Great Menthol Coverup

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released a report saying that menthol cigarettes likely pose a greater public health risk than regular cigarettes. The only problem with the report is that it ignores data (including FDA’s own research) showing menthols to be safer.

FDA has been sitting on a mountain of evidence, some of it more than 20 years old, demonstrating a greatly reduced risk of lung cancer in smokers of menthol cigarettes versus regular cigarettes. By not disseminating this evidence, the agency has, without a doubt, caused the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of smokers.

The report issued by FDA last week states:

While there is little evidence to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more or less toxic or contribute to more disease risk to the user than nonmenthol cigarettes, adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults. Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction. Menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking. These findings, combined with the evidence indicating that menthol’s cooling and anesthetic properties can reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and the evidence indicating that menthol cigarettes are marketed as a smoother alternative to nonmenthol cigarettes, make it likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with nonmenthol cigarettes.

FDA’s spin doctors are unable to say flat-out that menthol causes more cancer, for the simple reason that it causes less cancer.

As the anonymous authors of last week’s FDA report sheepishly point out (on p. 9 of the report), menthol is listed in the National Toxicology Database as Level F on the carcinogenicity scale, “which indicates that adequate tests have been conducted and the compound is concluded to be noncarcinogenic.” Menthol is actually a potent anti-inflammatory, particularly for lung tissue, which is why its vapors are useful in treating asthma. Meanwhile, the connection between inflammation and cancer is well known. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that menthol cigarettes cause less cancer.

In 2011, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of an extraordinarily large study (involving 85,806 smokers) showing that menthol smokers smoke fewer (not more) cigarettes per day than non-menthol smokers; that menthol and non-menthol smokers have equal odds of quitting; and that cancer rates are 33% to 50% less with menthol, depending on the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Said the researchers:

In multivariable analyses adjusted for pack-years of smoking, menthol cigarettes were associated with a lower lung cancer incidence (OR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.47 to 0.90) and mortality (hazard ratio of mortality = 0.69, 95% CI = 0.49 to 0.95) than non-menthol cigarettes.

Another study not mentioned in the report released last week by FDA is the one published in the October 2012 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research. showing 41% less lung cancer mortality for menthol smokers (vs. non-menthol smokers) aged 50 and over. What’s ironic about this study not having been mentioned in last week’s FDA report is that the study was conducted by FDA’s own Brian Rostron.

The question that needs to be asked at this point is: Why is FDA covering up its own data showing that menthol cigarettes are safer (not by a small amount but by a very significant amount) than regular cigarettes? If FDA really wanted to save lives, it would urge smokers who are unable to quit to switch to menthols immediately, as a life-preserving measure. In not making such a recommendation, FDA fails in its duty to protect the public. Apparently, it is politically incorrect for a government agency to recommend one type of cigarette over another, even when the evidence is inarguable that one type of cigarette is, in fact, tremendously safer than another. This is the lunacy of government “safety” advocacy: Safety is not the real agenda. The real agenda is maintaining political correctness.

Shame on FDA. Shame on the U.S. Government.

FDA is inviting public comment. To give y ours, go to this link


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