There are many myths and questions surrounding menthol cigarettes. Are they more or less dangerous? Are they more or less addictive? To clear up some of this misinformation, we spoke with Jennifer Cofer, director of the EndTobacco ™ Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Here’s what she had to say.
What is the difference between menthol cigarettes and regular cigarettes?
Menthol is a chemical compound that cools and numbs the throat, so it makes the smoke seems less harsh. It may be added to the tobacco or filters on menthol cigarettes.
Are menthol cigarettes healthier for you?
No. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration found that it is “likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes.” That’s because the minty coolness of the menthol can cover up the harshness of the cigarette, so people smoke more.
Are smokers more or less likely to become addicted to menthol cigarettes?
Studies show that young people who start smoking menthol cigarettes are more likely to become addicted and become long-term daily smokers. It’s the only flavored combustible cigarette left on the market, therefore more appealing to youth.
Research by both the FDA and the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee shows that those who smoke menthol cigarettes are more likely to be dependent and will have more trouble quitting.
While overall smoking rates have declined in recent years, the use of menthol cigarettes has increased.
The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee projected that by 2020, about 17,000 premature deaths will be attributable to menthol cigarettes and about 2.3 million people will have started smoking because of menthol cigarettes.
Who smokes menthol cigarettes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of smokers ages 12 to 17 use menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarette use is high among African-Americans too. And while African-Americans are more likely to try to quit smoking than white smokers, they’re less likely to be successful, possibly because of a higher nicotine dependence related to smoking mentholated cigarettes.
In recent years, menthol cigarette use has increased among Asian and Hispanic smokers, too.
What else should we know?