Many state and local jurisdictions have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol. These policies are critical in communities where racial bias in policing has contributed to high levels of smoking among African Americans.
A new study finds local menthol cigarette bans can help address health disparities. They can reduce cigarette use and encourage smokers to use cessation resources. In addition, these bans can also decrease illicit tobacco sales.
Menthol is a natural chemical
What is menthol flavor? Menthol flavor is a refreshing taste and aroma derived from menthol, a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and other mint plants. It can also be produced synthetically.
Tobacco companies use menthol to recruit new smokers, particularly youth and people of color. They target these communities with targeted marketing, and menthol cigarettes are a significant contributing factor to the high rates of smoking in these groups. Community leaders are working to address this problem, and research shows that non-mentholated tobacco has lower levels of consumption among the same groups as mentholated tobacco.
Tobacco industry documents reveal that menthol makes it easier for smokers to inhale deeply, leading to higher nicotine doses and a stronger addiction. These documents show that tobacco companies knew that menthol would be a recruiting tool and make low-tar, low-nicotine products more appealing to people who are new to smoking. Despite this knowledge, they continued to sell mentholated cigarettes, creating a loophole in the law that has cost lives.
It soothes the throat
Menthol, a natural plant extract, soothes the throat and airways when inhaled. It is used in cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, smokeless tobacco, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products. It can also alter how the brain registers taste and pain sensations. It makes smoking feel less harsh and can make it easier for people to start smoking and to continue, leading to addiction.
Menthol can also make it more difficult for smokers to quit. The tobacco industry uses menthol in marketing to target specific groups, including youth, communities of color, and the LGBTQ community. It is a huge reason why it is essential to support the FDA’s efforts to eliminate menthol from all flavored tobacco products, including cigarette products.
A study published in 2021 found that mentholated cigarettes increase the likelihood of adolescent smokers becoming addicted to tobacco and that those who smoke menthol cigarettes are more likely to experience nicotine dependence and addiction compared to non-mentholated smokers.
The study analyzed data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which included a subset of youth who reported having smoked mentholated cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to prohibit menthol in cigarettes under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but it still needs to do so.
It is a symbol of masculinity
The tobacco industry has used menthol as a recruitment tool for decades. It lures young people to start smoking and makes it harder for them to quit. It is a powerful marketing strategy that targets the most vulnerable populations – youth, women, and racial/ethnic minority groups. Its use has contributed to high levels of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in these communities.
Studies show that menthol cigarettes are more addictive than non-mentholated ones, and people who smoke them are more likely to be dependent on nicotine and have more incredible difficulty quitting. They also suffer from more severe health effects than non-mentholated smokers, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. This is because menthol-flavored cigarettes contain more nicotine and tar than regular tobacco-flavored cigarettes.
The tobacco industry has targeted Black communities with menthol products. They promoted these products using imagery that suggested they were socially acceptable. The tobacco companies also recruited influencers in Black communities, such as barbers and bellhops, to market the products to younger black audiences.
Researchers have studied how the tobacco industry marketed and sold menthol cigarettes in communities across the United States. In the study, they found that menthol cigarettes were more prevalent in neighborhoods with higher proportions of black residents and lower-income households. They also found that price promotions for menthol cigarettes were more common in these communities.
It is a symbol of youth
Menthol is a powerful tool for the tobacco industry to hook new smokers. Its flavor and sensory effects reduce the harshness of cigarette smoking and facilitate experimentation and progression to regular use, particularly among youth and young adults. Adding menthol to cigarettes is one of the most effective marketing tactics used by the tobacco industry, particularly for specific racial/ethnic groups.
A study shows that a majority of youth and young adult smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. The disproportionate menthol smoking prevalence among youth and young adults is consistent with the findings of other studies based on nationally representative survey data. The tobacco industry opposes a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes by warning that it will cause severe economic losses for communities.
However, a case study of Minneapolis and Saint Paul published in the journal Tobacco Control found that the number of tobacco retailers remained stable after restricting the sale of menthol cigarettes. Moreover, the study found that limiting menthol sales to youth and young adults reduced the number of youth and young adult smokers by more than half.