Smokers who only recently became addicted are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than longer-term smokers, suggesting that menthols may represent a more palatable ’starter’ cigarette for new smokers.
Research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that 44.6 percent of individuals who began smoking in the past year smoked menthols, compared to 31.8 percent of long-term smokers. Adding menthol makes cigarettes seem less harsh and imparts a cooling sensation in the mouth throat and lungs, researchers said, making it easier for new smokers to tolerate inhaled smoke.
Researchers also found that menthol cigarettes have become more popular: 33.9 percent of smokers used menthol cigarettes in 2008, up from 31 percent in 2004. Menthol is currently the only flavoring legally allowed in cigarettes, but Congress has authorized the federal government to research the public-health impact of permitting menthol cigarettes to be sold.
“Menthol cigarettes may play a role in perpetuating cigarette smoking — one of the most preventable and deadly public-health problems plaguing this nation,” said SAMHSA acting administrator Eric Broderick. “The apparent allure that menthol cigarettes have among younger, newer smokers is particularly troubling as menthol cigarettes may tempt more people to take up this dangerous deadly habit.”
More than 8 in 10 black smokers use menthol cigarettes, triple the rate among white smokers, according to the study.