On March 18, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) suggested that the FDA consider banning menthol cigarettes. TPSAC argued that methol makes people more likely to start smoking and less likely to quit.
The FDA is not obligated to accept TPSAC’s recommendations. In making its determination, which is not expected to occur for several months, the FDA will surely consider whether a ban of menthol cigarettes would lead to a black market for these products. Because of this issue, most analysts do not believe that the FDA will ban menthol cigarettes. It is more likely that the FDA will implement programs to monitor the marketing of menthol cigarettes.
The FDA already prohibits other “characterizing flavors” in cigarettes. Menthol was exempted from this prohibition. “Characterizing flavors” are not prohibited in smokeless tobacco, or other tobacco products such as cigars and pipe tobacco.
In the meantime, two major tobacco manufacturers have asked a federal court to prevent FDA from relying on TPSAC’s recommendations. The manufacturers argue that conflicts of interest for certain TPSAC members — including financial ties to manufacturers of smoking cessation products — prevent TPSAC from making unbiased recommendations.