January 10, 2011

Menthol Cigarettes Contribute to Appeal of Youth Smoking, Study Finds

Media Contacts

James Hersey
James Hersey

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—Menthol cigarettes contribute to the appeal of youth smoking, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International.

The study, published in the December issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, found that in 2006 more than half of middle school smokers and 43 percent of high school smokers reported usually smoking a menthol brand of cigarettes.

The choice of menthol cigarettes is even higher among minority youth.

The study found that 80 percent of black middle school students who smoked and 84 percent of black high school students who smoked chose menthol cigarettes. More than half of Hispanic middle school and high school smokers also chose menthols, as did about half of Asian Americans smokers.

"The popularity of menthol cigarettes among middle school students could result because the flavoring or cooling effects of menthol make these cigarettes easier to smoke," said James Hersey, Ph.D., a senior scientist at RTI International and the study's lead author. "Menthol cigarettes are also heavily marketed in minority communities, and it is likely that social and cultural factors also reinforce the use of menthol cigarettes."

According to the study, the odds of needing a cigarette within one hour of smoking were significantly higher among smokers whose usual brand was menthol, a sign of nicotine dependency.

"These results demonstrate the importance of controlling the use of menthol cigarettes and to implement cessation strategies that are effective for youth," Hersey said.

The researchers analyzed the 2006 National Youth Tobacco Survey to assess the relationship between menthol cigarette use and needing a cigarette within one hour after smoking.

Menthol is a flavoring agent, derived from natural and synthetic sources, that is sprayed on tobacco to enhance the taste, reduce the harshness, and increase the sale of cigarettes.