nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Will A Ban On Menthol In Cigarettes Improve Tobacco Cessation?

FDA panel considers evidence for claims that menthol encourages addiction in teens and minorities.

The Washington Post (Mar 31) just published a fairly balanced article (for a newspaper) on the issues involved in tobacco additives that potentially encourage smoking.

It was shocking to me that one in four smokers prefer menthol brands, and that menthol cigarettes account for about a third of the US market.  I smoked for almost 30 years and couldn't stand the menthol taste.  Allegedly, people like menthol because it "reduces the harshness of the tobacco taste."

Further, middle schoolers who smoke  prefer menthol almost 2 to 1.  And, 3 out of 4 African-Americans use menthol brands.  That's huge.

Although the surveys suggest that it's the taste that drives the choice to menthol, that's difficult to tease out from the original motivation to smoke.  At these levels, and among the adolescent population, "group-think" and acceptance probably play a role, too.

In any case, it's interesting to learn that Congress banned tobacco companies from adding other flavorings (such as candy, cloves, and chocolate) last year--but specifically excluded menthol.

There's no controversy over whether menthol cigarettes are more harmful--they aren't.  The allegation of harmful impact centers around how they influence behavior in promoting the smoking habit:  that is, they make it easier for beginners to persist, until they can't stop.

But compare this initiative to a similar one in obesity.  Obesity, due to eating unhealthy, high-calorie foods, is arguably just as unsafe (as a habit) as smoking cigarettes.  I've never seen a risk comparison between the high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems and cancer atributed to obesity, versus the lung and cancer problems associated with smoking.  Both create chronic, expensive health problems, shorten life, and are potentially fatal.

So, suppose a fast food company comes out with a new Fat-burger, containing an additive that adds no harm in itself, but makes its taste more desirable for over-eaters than the original Fat-burger.  Also, no change in calories or other risk.  Would we write a law that says the restaurant can't increase the taste desirability of their food?

Maybe there's a perception that over-eating is less of a health threat, or economic burden to society, than cigarettes.  But I'm not sure that's factual. 

Would we cross a line legislating food taste?  When I buy a Fat-burger, I'm doing it because I'm fed up with all that healthy, veggie, fiber, low-calorie stuff at home. 

Is there anything different with menthol and cigarettes?  People know they're engaging in bad health decisions. 

And, I'm not sure that  un-mentholated cigarettes would have made a difference in getting me started on cigarettes.  (BTW, been smoke free for 15 years)

Food for thought (pun intended).


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should make "weed" menthol!

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