FDA committee considers ban on menthol cigarettes.
Advisors to the Food and Drug Administration are reviewing research on menthol cigarettes this week and could vote to ban them outright.
A preliminary report from the FDA's advisory committee suggests the mint flavoring makes menthols more attractive and addictive.
"The minty, clean taste of menthol masks some of the harshness of tobacco and it makes it easier to inhale," says Ellen Vargyas.
Vargyas is with the american legacy foundation, an anti-tobacco organization that's lobbied hard for a ban on menthols.
She says teens increasingly favor flavored cigarettes.
Not so, according to the maker of Newport cigarettes, the nation's top-selling menthol brand.
On its website, the Lorillard Tobacco Company writes the majority of underage smokers report that their usual brand is not menthol.
Lorillard spokesman Gregg Perry says there's no evidence menthols are any more harmful than regular cigarettes and should be treated no differently.
In a statement, he writes:
"Menthol neither causes people to smoke, nor deters them from quitting. ... Menthol cigarettes simply give adult smokers a taste choice."
That minty taste is preferred by 80-percent of African-American smokers, who are most likely to be impacted by any FDA action.
"It's no accident that African Americans smoke menthol at such high rates," says Vargyas. "They have been targeted through industry marketing over decades."
The FDA has the authority to limit marketing for menthol cigarettes and experts predict regulators will go that route rather than ban menthols altogether.
A vote from the advisory committee is expected within the coming week.
Other flavored cigarettes, like chocolate and cherry, are already banned.
The FDA does not have to follow whatever advice its advisory committee recommends, but often does.