Menthol Cigarette Report Affirmed by Court

Millions of people have already died from smoking cigarettes. This week, a federal appeals court ruled that tobacco companies cannot challenge a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report on menthol cigarettes (Consumerist, January 15, 2015). In 2011, a report from the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that menthol flavoring leads to increased smoking rates, particularly among African Americans, teens and people with low incomes. The report reviewed scientific studies and showed that removing the flavoring would make it easier for some smokers to quit. This report was written by some of the leading experts on the subject.

Cigarette makers Lorillard and Reynolds American sued the FDA and claimed that several members of the committee that wrote the report had conflicts of interest just because they had previously testified against tobacco companies in court. Unbelievably, last year, a lower court gave the tobacco companies a victory over the FDA with a ruling that prevented the FDA from using the report and ordered the agency to change the members of its committee of tobacco advisers.

Now a three-judge panel has overturned that lower court ruling, releasing the report showing that menthol cigarettes have increased cigarette smoking and the deaths caused by smoking. Judge Stephen Williams wrote for the court that the companies have no legal basis to challenge the makeup of the committee that regulates human safety. However, the cigarette companies already won. The lower court's ruling had caused four members of the FDA's tobacco products advisory panel to resign or be removed. Reynolds American acquired Lorillard last year for $25 billion, and now markets Lorillard's top-selling menthol brand, Newport cigarettes. 

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