• Lorillard CEO Murray Kessler
  • CEO Murray Kessler of Lorillard Inc. -- the third-largest U.S. cigarettes maker, whose biggest brand, Newport, is the nation's top-selling menthol cigarette -- spoke during a conference call with analysts Tuesday about a report on menthols from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel.

    The FDA panel, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, said in March that removing menthol discount cigarettes from the market would benefit public health because the minty flavoring has led more people to pick up smoking cigarettes and makes quitting harder.

    The panel stopped short of recommending an outright ban, saying the FDA should consider other factors, including whether a ban could increase the market for counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes.

    Many analysts believe the agency won't ban menthol, which about 19 million Americans smoke, because it's a political hot potato. Menthol cheap cigarettes are one of few growth areas in the shrinking cigarette market.

    Kessler defended the cigarettes.

    QUESTION: As we look longer term, when FDA would make a final assessment, how do you think they would reconcile some of the concerns that the panel raised in the report?

    RESPONSE: They have an obligation to evaluate this issue, to follow the science. And, if they follow the science, we believe it strongly comes to the conclusion that there's no disproportionate harm from a menthol cigarette versus a non-menthol cigarette.

    They also have to deal with the issue that was really not even dealt with at all by the TPSAC report, which is countervailing effects like black market and unemployment and taxes and smuggling and youth access. We think when you combine that with it, they'll come to the right conclusion.

    Hopefully, the worst is behind us on this issue.