Mmmmm — Tastes Good Like a Cigarette is Engineered To

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Tobacco companies are using menthol flavoring in cigarettes to win over new smokers and keep existing ones, according to a new study appearing in the American Journal of Public Health.

Over the last decade in the U.S., cigarette sales have fallen about 2 percent a year. Miller-McCune.com noted earlier this month that tobacco companies are rolling out other products ranging from snuff to mini-cigars to protect their bottom line.

"In the eight-year Harvard study, which was published in the June 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers concluded that the growing demand for the other products has offset by one-third the 18 percent drop in the sale of cigarettes since 2000," our Rob Kuznia noted.

In that piece, we noted the progress of federal legislation that would in part outlaw flavorings in cigarettes — except for menthol.

"... Congress is moving ahead on giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products with a bill that in part would outlaw sweet- and spice-flavored cigarettes. Specifically omitted from that ban on "any artificial or natural flavor" is menthol, a flavor especially popular among African-American smokers. The Congressional Black Caucus has protested the exclusion."

This latest study, also from Harvard's School of Public Health, suggested why menthol might be protected: "The tobacco industry attracted new smokers by promoting cigarettes with lower menthol content, which were popular with adolescents and young adults, and provided cigarettes with higher menthol content to long-term smokers. Menthol cigarette sales remained stable from 2000 to 2005 in the United States, despite a 22 percent decline in overall packs sold."

The authors, led by Jennifer M. Kreslake, conclude that "tobacco companies manipulate the sensory characteristics of cigarettes, including menthol content, thereby facilitating smoking initiation and nicotine dependence." If we take as a premise that smoking ultimately is bad and that creating new smokers is, therefore, a bad idea, these findings are bad news.

And, as a policy prescription, the authors — who believe the alleged menthol manipulation violates the 1988 Master Settlement Agreement on cigarettes — argue that menthol should be regulated by the FDA.

Representatives from Altria, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard (which makes Newport, the most popular menthol coughing nail), all denied manipulating menthol levels. In a release, Lorillard said it wanted smokers who preferred menthols to prefer its products, but it wasn't altering menthol levels to hook newbies.

"The report's conclusion that Lorillard controls or alters the menthol levels in its products to promote smoking initiation or addiction is categorically false," the company stated. "Lorillard does not control levels of menthol to promote smoking among adolescents and young adults. Furthermore, Lorillard does not engineer any of its cigarettes to promote smoking initiation or nicotine addiction. Importantly, the target menthol specifications for Newport have not changed at all since 2000."

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