April 18, 2012

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

More calls for Obama to ban menthol from former health officials

Joseph Califano, Jr., and a distinguished group of former Secretaries of Health, CDC Directors and Surgeons General have again called on the FDA to act on well-established science demonstrating that menthol in tobacco products endangers public health.  My only criticism of what they are demanding is that it does not go far enough.  The FDA should not just prohibit menthol flavored cigarettes, but any use of menthol in tobacco products.  In addition to being a "characterizing flavor" in some varieties of cigarettes, it interacts with nicotine to modulate the "impact" of smoking.  The cigarette companies can "tune" the levels of nicotine and menthol to achieve the desired effect.  That's why menthol is an additive in 90% of US cigarettes.

The hope among the optimists is that President Obama doesn't want to issue any controversial new regulations (and we all know that Big Tobacco will make a decision to get rid of menthol controversial).  He will so something after the election, we are assured. 

The only problem with this approach is that in the meantime, millions of kids will start smoking because menthol makes cigarettes easier to smoke and others who might quit won't.  This is shameful.

Here is the statement:


April 18, 2012 - Former Secretaries of the U.S.Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and of Health and Human Services, U.S. Surgeons General, and Directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, back to the Johnson Administration,  known as The Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth, today urged the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, to comply with the determination of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body and ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes in order to bring the United States into compliance with its international treaty obligations.
In a letter, signed by the Citizens’ Commission Chairman, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter who began the nation’s first anti-smoking campaign in 1978 and Vice Chairman Louis Sullivan, M.D., president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine and Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, the Citizens’ Commission cited the WTO Appellate Body decision upholding a WTO panel decision which found that by banning all cigarette flavorings except menthol, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (the Act) discriminates against Indonesian clove cigarettes in violation of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). The Appellate Body, like the panel before it, recommended that the WTO Dispute Settlement Body ask the United States to conform the Act with its obligations under the TBT Agreement and accord menthol and Indonesian clove cigarettes like treatment in recognition of their being like products

The Citizens’ Commission urged Ambassador Kirk to comply with the Appellate Body’s ruling and ask the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes.  The letter pointed out that such action is supported not only by the March 2011 report of the Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to the FDA, but by the recent Surgeon General’s report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General, which noted that while smoking of non-mentholated cigarettes by youth and young adults has decreased, smoking of mentholated cigarettes by these groups has increased.

“The continued exemption of menthol from the flavoring ban is an assault on the public health, particularly teenagers and African Americans,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., who is also founder and chairman emeritus of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Indonesia argued that by tailoring the ban on characterizing flavors in such a way that virtually no domestic cigarettes, including those most popular with youth, were removed from the market, the United States was able to generate the appearance of cracking down on youth smoking without actually inflicting any real harm on U.S. tobacco companies or eliminating any domestically produced cigarettes popular with youth.

The Citizens’ Commission stated that all characterizing flavorings need to be removed from cigarettes as all such flavorings are “like” in the role they play in youth smoking initiation and addiction.  Califano and Sullivan criticized as “ridiculous” the claim by Ambassador Kirk’s office that exempting menthol from the flavoring ban on cigarettes somehow promotes sound public health policy.  Contrary to recent news reports and statements from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the WTO decision is not a blow to the Obama Administration’s efforts to prevent youth from smoking.

Califano and Sullivan added, “If the Obama Administration is serious about protecting the public health and preventing youth smoking, it will act to extend the flavoring ban to menthol.”

The Citizens’ Commission sent a similar letter to the FDA urging them to act on the recommendation of their own Congressionally-appointed
committee – the TPSAC – and ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes

The Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth, a group of former U.S. Secretaries of Health, Education, and Welfare and of Health and Human Services, former U.S. Surgeons General, and former Directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Republican and Democrat, was formed in March 2004 to prevent youth from smoking. Among its efforts, the Commission shines a spotlight on the continued need to fund truth®, the only independent national youth counter- marketing campaign with demonstrated results in keeping children and teens from smoking. For more information on the Commission, visit its Web site at www.ProtectTheTruth.org.

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