The Post’s Feb. 5 editorial "Holding our breath," on the Food and Drug Administration’s inaction on tobacco-related issues, noted that "flavored cigarettes have been banned" and "menthol cigarettes ... are still on sale." Menthol is the most deadly tobacco flavoring. The 2009 Tobacco Control Act banned the use of all flavorings in cigarettes except menthol, which was to be studied by the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. In March 2011, that committee recommended that the FDA ban menthol cigarettes to "benefit public health in the United States." Two years later the FDA has yet to act.
Because menthol reduces the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, menthol cigarettes are a powerful starter product. Almost half of 12- to 17-year-old smokers choose menthol cigarettes and more than 80 percent of adolescent African American smokers use them. More than 90 percent of adult smokers are hooked as teens. Menthol flavorings not only lure youth to start smoking, they also make it harder for menthol smokers to quit. Now is the time for the FDA to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes to help reduce health-care costs and protect the health and save the lives of more Americans.
Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Founder and Chairman Emeritus, CASAColumbia at Columbia University (CASAColumbia)