Lorillard Inc and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co have filed a lawsuit against the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) saying there were conflicts of interest and bias among members of an advisory panel which may recommend banning menthol cigarettes.
The FDA advisory panel's recommendations are not binding, however the agency usually goes along with its advice. Panel members are expected to put forward their recommendations regarding menthol-flavored cigarettes on 23rd March this year.
Nearly 1 in every 3 cigarettes sold in the USA is mentholated. R. J. Reynolds sells a menthol Camel version as well as the Kool brand, while Lorillard's Newport brand is the number one menthol cigarette seller in the country.
Legislation was passed in 2009 giving the FDA the power to decide over tobacco products, such as cigarettes, pipes and cigars. The agency banned fruit, chocolate and other flavored cigarettes, which were thought to be aimed at getting children to smoke.
The new law asked the FDA to get a panel of outside experts to look into the health and social aspects of menthol cigarettes before deciding on whether to ban them.
Three panel members are accused of having severe financial and appearance conflicts of interest and associated biases, according to the lawsuit.
Pharmaceutical companies have financially rewarded three advisers for consultation work and research - these companies make products that to help people give up smoking, the lawsuit claims.
Two more members of a panel subcommittee have appeared as expert witnesses in suits against cigarette makers, the suit also claims.
Those wanting to prevent children from ever starting to smoke say the lawsuits are frivolous attempts to derail much needed legislation.
In an online communiqué, Matthew Myers president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says this latest suit is an act of panic. He accuses the tobacco companies of fearing that the committee will recommend effective actions that either undermine or completely destroy a very lucrative market for menthol cigarettes, "Once again, they are putting profits ahead of lives and health."
Myers says the lawsuit is groundless. The advisory committee was legally set up in accordance with the 2009 legislation. The evidence is compelling that the presence and availability of menthol cigarettes is linked to a higher incidence of smoking among children - the tobacco industry want to keep the evidence secret, Myers said.
It is critical to public health that the committee moves forward with issuing its menthol report on March 23, as required by Congress when it enacted the law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products.
A 2009 study by scientists at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that menthol cigarettes are harder to give up, especially among African-Americans and Latino smokers. (Link)
Written by Christian Nordqvist