Menthol Cigarette Habit Harder to Kick

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If you used to smoke cigarettes and have quit, you know how hard stopping can be. A new study finds that people who smoke menthol cigarettes may find the habit even harder to kick, especially teens and African-Americans.

Menthol cigarettes may have more nicotine

Despite the vast amount of research around nicotine, smoking, and health, there is limited information about menthol smokers compared with non-menthol smokers. To date, no studies have been specifically designed to explore use of menthol cigarettes and quitting.

The researchers who conducted the new study, which was done at Penn State College of Medicine, reviewed 10 published studies that compared smoking cessation rates or proportions between people who smoked menthol versus regular cigarettes.

Overall, teens and African-Americans are the biggest users of menthol cigarettes, and racial/ethnic minority smokers of menthol cigarettes have a lower cessation rate than do people who smoke regular cigarettes, especially among younger smokers.

Some possible reasons for this disparity between menthol and regular cigarette smokers may be the nature of menthol itself, which is extracted from mint oils or synthetically made. “Menthol stimulates cold receptors, so it produces a cooling sensation,” according to Jonathan Foulds, PhD, professor, Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, and an author of the review.

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Menthol cigarettes may provide higher levels of nicotine, cotinine, and carbon monoxide per cigarette than do regular cigarettes, which, according to Foulds, “may help smokers inhale more nicotine per cigarette and so become more addicted.”

In addition, menthol smokers tend to be less affluent and so less able to afford to smoke. Menthol cigarettes provide more “punch” for less: menthol smokers can get more nicotine from smoking fewer cigarettes. Foulds notes that “menthol in cigarettes makes the smoke less harsh, enabling these smokers to obtain a larger and more reinforcing nicotine hit.”

In another study published in the December 2010 issue of Addiction, researchers at the University of Kentucky reported on health differences between menthol and non-menthol cigarette smokers, using findings from the National Health Interview Survey.

After controlling for age, race, and sex, it was noted that people who currently smoke menthol cigarettes smoke significantly fewer cigarettes than those who smoke regular cigarettes. In addition, former menthol smokers had higher body mass indices and were more likely to visit the emergency department due to asthma.

Although menthol cigarettes comprise only about 25 percent of the market, they are preferred by about 50 percent of teenager smokers and 80 percent of African-American smokers. These are the populations that may find the menthol cigarette habit hard to kick.

SOURCES:
Mendiondo MS et al. Addiction 2010 Dec; 105 Suppl 1:124-40
Penn State College of Medicine news release

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