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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says menthol-flavored cigarettes raise critical public health questions, and likely pose a greater risk to the health of smokers than non-menthol cigarettes, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The agency said it is considering taking action that would result in restricted sales of menthol cigarettes. While the FDA said current research does not indicate menthol cigarettes increase the risk of smoking-related disease compared with regular cigarettes, the  agency noted in a report that “adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults. Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction. Menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking.”

In March 2011, an expert panel advising the FDA recommended in a draft report that menthol cigarettes be outlawed to protect Americans’ health. The advisory panel—made up of scientists, physicians, and public health experts—found that putting menthol in cigarettes did not increase the individual risk of smoking-related health problems, such as strokes and lung cancer.

However, the panel found that menthol cigarettes increased “the likelihood of addiction and the degree of addiction in youth smokers,” and menthol in cigarettes made it harder for African American smokers to quit. Additionally, menthol cigarettes could make groups more likely to experiment with smoking and become regular smokers.

In the United States, about 30 percent of all adult smokers and more than 40 percent of all youth smokers report smoking menthol cigarettes, the FDA stated in a news release. The agency is seeking public comment about the potential regulation of menthol cigarettes. It could decide to limit the amount of menthol in cigarettes, put curbs on marketing or advertising of the products, or ban them. It likely would be years before any of those changes would take place, the newspaper reports.

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