Wednesday, May 4, 2022

FDA Unveils New Smoker Numbers to Justify a Menthol Ban


In its proposed rule to ban menthol cigarettes, the FDA makes a bizarre claim: “In 2019, there were more than 18.5 million current smokers of menthol cigarettes ages 12 and older in the United States.”

The agency derived this number from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which reported that 18.3 million adults and 260,000 youth 12-17 years old smoked menthol cigarettes in 2019.

Using that same survey, however, the total number of smokers in 2019 was 46.2 million -- 45.6 million adults and 600,000 youth age 12-17.

No federal official or agency has ever suggested there were that many smokers in 2019.  The CDC and the FDA only acknowledged the existence of 34 million adult smokers and 886,000 youth smokers, using the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), respectively. 

The CDC and FDA use the NYTS youth number (886,000), which is nearly 50% higher than the 600,000 reported by the NSDUH.  This is further evidence of why the NYTS numbers should never be the final word for youth tobacco use (here and here). 

Using the FDA’s NSDUH number for adult smokers, the comparison with the NHIS number it formerly used is almost as bad, and in the opposite direction.  Now the agency menthol claim implies that there were 45.6 million adult smokers in 2019 (NSDUH), but before it only acknowledged 34 million (NHIS).

What did the FDA do with 286,000 youth and 11.6 million adult smokers?

When they want to emphasize big smoking numbers, the FDA and CDC use NSDUH and NYTS data.  When they prefer smaller numbers, they use the NHIS.  I have highlighted this deception since 2009. 

It is time to hold these agencies accountable, especially when the FDA uses this manipulation to justify punitive regulation. 



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