Northern California Towns Weigh In on Menthol Debate

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Northern California Towns Weigh In on Menthol Debate


SAN FRANCISCO -- Several municipalities in the Bay Area have passed resolutions encouraging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to follow through on a committee's recommendation to ban menthol in cigarettes.

The resolutions in Martinez, San Pablo, Richmond, Oakland, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, San Mateo County Solano County and San Francisco come as anti-tobacco advocates have been lobbying elected officials in the area to make their voices heard on the issue.

Contra Costa County was the first to take aim at a possible ban, according to the The Mercury News, when County Supervisor John Gioia sponsored a resolution this past October. "It's always amazing to me how creative the tobacco industry is in finding ways to improve its marketing among various populations," he said at the time. "I think this is an attempt to do that, and it's important that public agencies, public health agencies speak out on this issue."

According to national polls, 44 percent of smokers ages 12 to 17 smoke menthol cigarettes and 80 percent of African-American smokers choose menthols. Menthol opens the airways in the lungs and allows smokers to breathe more deeply, said Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association in California. Surveys indicate that smokers might give up cigarettes if menthol products are no longer available, she added.

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder told the newspaper he typically stays away from wading into national issues that don't affect the city directly. However, two factors changed his mind, he said -- the statistics about who smokes menthol cigarettes and the fact that Martinez has taken a strong stand against secondhand smoke.

"At worst, [the resolutions] are symbolic gestures. At best, they end up informing and educating and bringing along our elected officials," Chen told the newspaper. "It's all part of an educational program in which you do more than educate, in which you ask the elected officials to take a stand for the community, to take a stand for public health."

In March the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee issued a draft report that concluded the "removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." No final decision has been made yet. The FDA has submitted its analysis of the data for an independent peer review. The process is expected to be completed this fall, as CSNews Online previously reported.