Tobacco Deal Gives Menthol Critics a New Soapbox
Reynolds American Inc. (RAI)’s deal to buy Lorillard Inc. (LO) and its Newport menthol brand sets up a fresh showdown between the tobacco industry and foes who say mint-flavored cigarettes pose a threat to black smokers and youths.
For Reynolds, Newport was the biggest selling point in yesterday’s $25 billion agreement to acquire its tobacco rival. The product accounts for about 12 percent of the total U.S. market and has grown over the past three years, providing a bright spot in a declining industry. Menthols appeal to smokers because of their cool, soothing taste, and about three-quarters of adult black smokers prefer them over regular cigarettes.
In 2011, a panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration suggested that eliminating menthol cigarettes would benefit public health. While stopping short of proposing a ban, the FDA found that menthol additives probably make it harder for smokers to quit. The cigarettes are associated with increased dependence, especially among blacks, the agency said in a preliminary evaluation. It’s currently seeking input over whether to scale back or prohibit menthol additives.
“This deal will continue to give fuel to our fire on the issue,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, one of several groups advocating for a FDA ban on menthol in cigarettes. “The menthol issue isn’t going to go away, and we’re going to keep it up.”