Congress wants to give the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate cigarettes and even ban most flavored cigarettes. But there's a catch. Menthol cigarettes would be exempted from the ban, leaving in place a large portion of the cigarette market that has particular appeal to young people and to African-Americans. That appears to be the distasteful price for putting cigarettes under the watchful eye of the FDA.
But if Congress indeed gives the FDA the oversight authority, the agency should look seriously at the scientific evidence and make its own determination about whether menthol cigarettes deserve a regulatory pass.
Legislation passed by a House committee would have the FDA review all new tobacco products before they could go on the market, approve statements before they could be put on product packages, and set standards for tobacco products that protect public health. In addition, the FDA could restrict the sale or distribution of tobacco products and issue warnings or recalls for particularly harmful products. The regulatory scheme would be paid for through user fees imposed on cigarette manufacturers. A similar bill is working its way through the Senate.