FDA Considers Restricting Tobacco Flavors, Including Menthol

(Bloomberg) -- The Food and Drug Administration will consider restricting the use of menthol flavoring in cigarettes, the second move in a week by the agency to make smoking less enjoyable as part of an ambitious anti-tobacco push.

Along with menthol, the FDA is considering policies to keep kids from being enticed by tobacco products with flavors ranging from strawberry to chocolate to cotton candy. It published a notice online Tuesday seeking public input on regulations it plans to propose.

“We need to take every effort to prevent kids from getting hooked on nicotine,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Flavored products include Phillies cigars and Swisher Sweets cigarillos as well as menthol cigarettes made by major tobacco companies including Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about 18 percent of high school students reported using at least one flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days compared with 5.8 percent who used only nonflavored tobacco products.

U.S.-traded shares of British American Tobacco briefly declined in premarket trading after the FDA notice posted, but were up 0.1 percent at $56.56 at 9:46 a.m. in New York. Shares of Altria and Philip Morris International Inc. were modestly lower.

Separately, Altria and Philip Morris are attempting to get FDA clearance to sell a tobacco product that resembles a cigarette in some ways but is heated not burned, which the companies want the agency to allow them to label as less risky than smoking. The product, called iQos, could help them better deal with regulation that reduces cigarette use.

The FDA had previously examined menthol in 2013, but stopped short of proposing a ban. The fresh look at tobacco flavorings could go further, though will also look at whether adding flavors to electronic cigarettes can help some adults quit regular, burned tobacco.

Gottlieb said the FDA hopes to find a way to address flavored e-cigarettes “given both their clear appeal to youth but also the potential role certain flavors may play in helping some adult smokers transition to potentially less harmful tobacco products.”

U.S. law already prohibits sales of tobacco products to minors and bans flavors aside from menthol in regular cigarettes.

The request for public input follows a similar request last week from the FDA on reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, a first step in regulations that could make cigarettes less addictive. The public has 90 days to comment on questions the FDA raised in the latest notice.

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