Menthol cigarettes are flavored with menthol, which triggers the cold-sensitive nerves in the skin.
Menthol has a cooling and anesthetic (or pain killing) effect. This also decreases the cough reflex and can soothe the dry throat feeling that many smokers have. As a result, menthol smokers may inhale more deeply, hold the smoke in the lungs longer, and get more exposure to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke.
National survey data showed that in 2006, 43.8 percent of current smokers aged 12-17 years reported using menthol cigarettes, compared to 35.6 percent of smokers aged 18 to 24 years and 30.6 percent of smokers older than 35 years.
Menthol products accounted for approximately one-fifth of the United States cigarette market in 2006.
About 80 percent of African Americans smokers prefer menthol cigarettes in comparison to 30 percent of white smokers.
Menthol and Health Risks
Like other cigarettes, menthol cigarettes cause diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory diseases and multiple adverse reproductive outcomes.
Second-hand smoke exposure from any cigarette, including menthol cigarettes, can cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Menthol and Nicotine Addiction
Menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke which appeals to younger smokers.
Menthol smokers show significantly higher levels of nicotine addiction compared with non menthol smokers in the same age group.
Menthol may help to cover the actual strength of cigarette smoke making it more pleasurable and more difficult to quit.
Quitting Menthol Cigarettes
Switch to non-menthol cigarettes a week or more before trying to quit. This may improve chances of quitting.
After switching brands, use quit methods used for quitting cigarettes.
American Lung Association. From Joe Camel to Kauai Kolada- The Marketing of Candy-Flavored Cigarettes; 2006.
Kreslake JM, Wayne GF, Alpert HR, Koh HK, Connolly GN. Tobacco Industry Control of Menthol in Cigarettes and Targeting of Adolescents and Young Adults. Am J Pub Health 2008;98(9):1685-1692.
FTC. Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report for 2006; 2009.
Hersey JC, Ng SW, Nonnemaker JM, Mowery P, Thomas KY, Vilsaint M, et al. Are menthol cigarettes a starter product for youth? Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2006;8(3):403-413.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health: Atlanta, GA 2004.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health: Atlanta, GA 2006.
This information has been approved by Amy Lukowski, PsyD (November 2011).