Has FDA Adequately Considered Black Market If Menthol Cigs Are Banned?

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A week after Lorillard Tobacco Company launched its new Newport Non Menthol brand of cigarettes, Convenience Store News checked in with the giant tobacco firm to get an update on its efforts to communicate its stance to the FDA panel currently investigating the future of menthol cigarettes.

Lorillard, whose flagship brand Newport is the second-largest cigarette brand in the industry as well as the top-selling menthol brand, has been vocal in communicating to the FDA and others its position that the science does not support agency action on the use of menthol in cigarettes, according to Gregg Perry, a spokesman for Lorillard Tobacco Company. "Lorillard's Dr. William True, senior vice president of research and development, demonstrated during testimony this year to the panel that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence does not show that menthol in cigarettes is harmful," said Perry.

Perry answered several more questions for CSNews:

CSNews: Does Lorillard feel that FDA understands the full impact of what banning menthol cigarettes would have on convenience store retailers? The black market?

Perry: NACS has done a very good job of communicating to the FDA and other interested parties how a ban on menthol would undermine public health goals because those selling contraband are not going to ask for an ID like the clerk at the convenience store does.

A ban on menthol cigarettes would create a contraband nightmare for law enforcement, while at the same time denying governments revenue from taxes on tobacco products. Numerous law enforcement groups including the Law Enforcement Alliance of America and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives have urged the FDA not to ban menthol cigarettes, citing the increase in illegal activity such a prohibition-like ban would create.

Despite all these efforts, we are not at all convinced that the FDA panel has considered the black market as it was directed to do under the law. In fact, the contraband topic has scarcely been mentioned by the panel. Obviously, much more serious consideration of this topic is necessary before they make a recommendation.

Lorillard has created a Web site called www.UnderstandingMenthol.com. Could you tell us a little bit about the strategy behind the site, what kinds of information does it provide, and what kind of reaction you've had from viewers of the site?

Lorillard believes this issue should be decided in a fact-based, objective manner. understandingmenthol.com is designed to provide the clear and compelling scientific evidence regarding menthol -- namely that the scientific evidence does not show that menthol in cigarettes is harmful, and that Americans have a right to make a personal choice to use any legal product. Menthol in cigarettes neither causes people to smoke nor deters them from quitting. The site has been well received. We've accompanied that website with an active presence on the issue on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as well.

I know it's hard to predict the future, but what do you think will be the final decision of the FDA regarding menthol cigarettes?

Based on the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, Lorillard believes first and foremost that menthol cigarettes have the same health effects as non-menthol cigarettes. Menthol neither causes people to smoke, nor deters them from quitting. A menthol cigarette is just another cigarette. All cigarettes are dangerous. A recommendation to ban menthol cannot be justified based on sound regulatory science.

Second, Lorillard believes that a ban of menthol would not have the intended consequence of improving public health. In contrast, the unintended consequences of a ban, including the almost certain, huge contraband market in menthol products, could more likely result in an adverse impact on public health. Further, there is little research regarding the intended and unintended consequences of a menthol ban. The panel has neither studied the issue nor, to our knowledge, commissioned research on these unintended consequences.

All advisory committees to the FDA have been charged by FDA Commissioner Hamburg to "follow the science." Time will tell if the advisory panel will indeed be driven by the science.

All the while, if Lorillard believes sound regulatory science did not guide the process and the decision, then the company would vigorously defend its freedom to operate through the administrative and legal system.

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