Over 40% of under-age smokers and 30% of adult smokers in the US report smoking menthol cigarettes. The FDA has banned “flavored tobacco products”, but menthol was initially excluded until the public health community voiced its concern to Congress. The law was amended directing the FDA to address menthol as one of its first initiatives. The FDA Scientific Advisory Board concluded that although menthol itself does not cause disease, it makes cigarettes more palatable. Thus, menthol in cigarettes posed a public health risk. The FDA is currently considering regulating menthol in cigarettes. So, why all the “fuss” about menthol cigarettes? What concerns are there about these tobacco products? Let’s just consider a few facts about these products.
39% of menthol smokers reported they would quit smoking if menthol cigarettes were banned. Prevalence of menthol cigarette smokers is higher among African-Americans, younger, and female smokers. African American smokers favor mentholated cigarettes by a 3-fold margin. Menthol cigarette smokers had significantly lower odds of stopping smoking than non-menthol users.
Menthol cigarette use was associated with increased concentration of blood cadmium (a carcinogen). Women who smoked menthol cigarettes showed signs of greater tobacco dependence than non-menthol smokers. Young people who first tried menthol cigarettes are at greater risk of progression to regular smoking and tobacco dependence.
Tobacco companies continue to perform active research to identify the product that would be least “irritating” to the throat and most addictive to promote lifelong use of their product. Menthol cigarettes are a “perfect” fit. They entice people to smoke and keep people smoking cigarettes – the only product that will kill more than 60% of its consumers.