Lorillard, maker of the leading menthol cigarette brand in the US, engaged in a fierce battle to prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from banning a product that accounts for roughly 90 percent of its sales, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Among the company's tactics: buying up a host of menthol-bashing internet domain names, including MentholKillsMinorities.com, MentholAddictsYouth.com and FDAMustBanMenthol.com.
Keeping those names out of the hands of critics is just one part of Lorillard's multimedia campaign to thwart a possible ban. The fight's next round was set for next week, when a special FDA tobacco advisory committee is scheduled to meet to review data regarding menthol products. In March, the panel will recommend whether to extinguish menthol cigarettes altogether -- including Lorillard's top-selling Newport brand.
Some anti-smoking groups were already pressing for the variety to be taken off shelves, saying that menthol marketing campaigns tend to target minorities and adolescent smokers.
Lorillard, the nation's third-largest cigarette producer, was making pre-emptive strikes against any possible ban. Given its dependence on Newport, it faces a potential "doomsday scenario if menthol gets banned, and they can't keep a majority of their customers," said Philip Gorham, an analyst with Morningstar.
In addition to arguing that menthols are no more addictive than regular cigarettes, the company was courting allies, including some African-American groups, to help make its case. Newport is especially popular with African-American smokers, about 80 percent of whom prefer menthol cigarettes, according to government survey data.
Lorillard spokesman Gregg Perry said the company "has taken vigorous steps to communicate with all who will listen to our point of view," adding that thousands of jobs were at stake.