March 15th, 2011
FDA weighs ban on Newports, other menthol cigarettes
Phillip Gardiner started smoking after he quit his college basketball team. He soon switched from Winstons, then the country’s topselling brand, to Kool menthols.
“It was cool to smoke Kools,” Gardiner explains.
Over the more than 40 years since Gardiner — who is black — opted for Kools, menthol cigarettes have become increasingly popular with African-American smokers.
Today, black smokers are four times more likely to choose menthols than white smokers. (Gardiner quit smoking long ago.) By 2005, half of black smokers smoked Newports, the most popular menthol brand.
Gardiner, a scientist with the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program at the University of California Office of the President, calls this the “African-Americanization of menthol cigarette use.” Once a niche product smoked mainly by women, menthols became the cigarette of choice for black smokers thanks in part to targeted marketing in urban centers and in publications aimed at black readers.
Now the Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban on menthol cigarettes, fueling a debate about how such a move would impact African Americans. The FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee has been reviewing the health effects of menthol cigarettes for the past year and is due to submit its final report and recommendations to the agency any day. The FDA usually, but not always, goes along with its advisory panels. However, Lorillard, maker of Newports, and R.J. Reynolds, maker of Kools, filed a lawsuit Feb. 25 to block the committee’s recommendations. The suit alleges that the committee can’t provide fair advice because three members have conflicts of interest.