RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Menthol cigarettes aren’t riskier than regular cigarettes and shouldn’t be regulated any differently, the tobacco industry argues in a report to the Food and Drug Administration obtained by The Associated Press.

The industry is trying to defend the minty smokes, a key area for growth in a shrinking cigarette market, as the agency weighs whether to ban the flavoring.Phili

According to a draft executive summary, the tobacco industry said it believes there’s no scientific basis to regulate the menthol any differently and concludes that menthol cigarettes don’t make it easier for people to start, harder for them to quit or raise their risk of disease. It also believes that a ban on menthol would lead to more contraband smokes.

An FDA panel advising the agency on tobacco issues meets Thursday and Friday to discuss its own report on public health impact of menthol cigarettes due March 23. Draft chapters of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee’s report show that while menthol cigarettes may not be more risky, use is high among minorities, teenagers and low-income people.

The FDA won the authority to regulate tobacco in June 2009. The law doesn’t let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco, just regulate what goes into tobacco products, require the ingredients be publicized and limit marketing, especially to young people.

The agency’s panels advise it on scientific issues. It doesn’t have to follow their recommendations but usually does.

While most believe a ban is unlikely, the panel could suggest tighter restrictions on menthol cigarettes, or recommend further study of the issue.

A menthol ban would fall heavily on Lorillard Inc., the country’s third-largest and oldest continuously operating tobacco company. Its Newport brand is the top-selling menthol cigarette in the U.S., with roughly 35 percent of the market. Lorillard is based in Greensboro, N.C.

U.S. cigarette makers have gone on the offensive amid the menthol review. Lorillard and Reynolds American Inc., based in Winston-Salem, N.C., and owner of the nation’s second-largest tobacco company, have asked a federal court to stop the FDA from relying on the advisory panel’s recommendations, alleging financial conflict of interest and bias by several members.

In addition to the tobacco industry report, Altria Group Inc., the owner of nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, is set to submit its own menthol findings and recommendations to the FDA. Altria is based in Richmond, Va.

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