(CNN) -- Menthol cigarettes are no more harmful than regular cigarettes, tobacco industry representatives argued Thursday as a federal advisory panel opened a two-day meeting to consider whether to ban the sale of those cigarettes.
Menthol cigarettes, which account for one-quarter of the cigarettes sold in the United States, have been under scrutiny by public health officials and public health watchdog groups. Critics claim the flavor makes them more addictive and denounce the marketing campaigns that they say target menthol cigarettes specifically at minority smokers.
According to a study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, menthol cigarettes are favored by three-quarters of African-American smokers.
But Leonard Jones, director of marketing at Lorillard Tobacco Company, said that "ethnicity does not play a role" in marketing strategies for the Newport menthol cigarette. "We don't collect or retain information on ethnicity in our marketing data base."
Representatives from Phillip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Lorillard Tobacco Company plan to present scientific evidence that they say shows menthol cigarettes are no more harmful than non-menthol cigarettes. The meeting, moderated by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, is being held in Rockville, Maryland.
The 12-member federal advisory panel, which is in charge of overseeing the implementation of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, is scheduled to makes recommendations on menthol cigarettes by March 23, 2011. The committee includes three non-voting members representing the tobacco industry.
The panel could decide to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes or order that the levels of flavoring in them be reduced.
There is no evidence showing higher numbers of deaths among menthol cigarette smokers than among non-menthol cigarette smokers, said Jane Lewis of Altria Client Services, which represents Phillip Morris USA. And "at the end, that's what matters," she added.
The meeting is being streamed live on the FDA's website. According to the agenda, participants will discuss the characterization of menthol cigarettes, clinical effects of menthol, biomarkers of disease risk, marketing data, and population effects.