Lorillard Urges FDA to Review Testimony on Menthol

Lorillard urges FDA to review menthol cigarettes testimony
Newport menthol cigarettes, made by Lorillard Inc., are displayed for a photograph in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

July 13 (Bloomberg) -- Lorillard Inc., the largest U.S. maker of menthol cigarettes, is urging regulators to review testimony by some government scientists indicating the mint flavor makes cigarettes more harmful.

The Food and Drug Administration began examining the health impact of menthol in cigarettes in March, and a new round of hearings on the matter begins this week.

“We are looking for accuracy along the way,” William True, Lorillard’s senior vice president of research and development, said yesterday in an interview. “There will be much more this week in terms of quantifiable, measurable science.”

Newport, the top-selling menthol cigarette brand in the U.S., accounted for about 92 percent of Lorillard’s more than $5 billion in sales last year. The FDA is reviewing the health risks of menthol in cigarettes and has until March 2012 to decide whether to ban them.

True, 48, is among executives from Lorillard and larger rivals Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. scheduled to testify at the hearings in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Leonard Jones, Lorillard’s director of direct marketing and marketing research, will testify after the panel asked tobacco companies in March to provide data on how they make and market menthol cigarettes.

‘Cherry-Picking’

Some of the FDA’s staff testimony in March consisted of “cherry-picking” of scientific research pointing to possibly greater health risks from menthol, Greensboro, North Carolina-based Lorillard said in a 34-page brief submitted to the advisory panel June 29. “The best available science does not support an assertion that menthol in cigarettes impacts public health,” the company said.

“The fact that, in several instances, the information and conclusions presented were incomplete and/or inaccurate has tainted the process and the committee,” True said in an accompanying letter to Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Lorillard provided a copy of the letter to Bloomberg News.

Kathleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the FDA, declined to comment on True’s remarks.

A law signed by President Barack Obama in June 2009 gave the FDA unprecedented power to restrict the marketing of tobacco products to youths and banned companies from adding flavors such as clove or strawberry to cigarettes.

The law allowed menthol-flavored cigarettes, the most popular flavor, to stay on the market unless the FDA determines they’re more of a health risk than regular cigarettes.

Lorillard fell 2 cents to $74.65 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have declined 7 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Burritt in Greensboro, North Carolina, at cburritt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jennifer Sondag at jsondag@bloomberg.net