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More adolescent smokers becoming addicted to menthol cigarettes

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I have previously written about the increasing evidence that smokers of menthol cigarettes find it harder to quit. (You can find previous posts on menthol by typing “menthol” in the “Search health experts” box on the right). Today I want to highlight the growing evidence that a higher proportion of adolescent smokers are smoking menthols and that those who so, get addicted quicker.

Some of the best evidence for this phenomenon was contained in a paper published by colleagues here at UMFNJ-School of Public health, Drs Olivia Wackowski and Cristine Delnevo. They analyzed the results from the 2004 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which contained data from a nationally representative sample of over 13,000 U.S. high school students. They found that 46% of all HS smokers smoked menthols, but that percentage was higher for 9th graders (59%) than for 12th graders (46%). 88% of African American teen smokers smoked menthols. The menthol smoking teens were also significantly more likely to say that they felt a need for another smoke within an hour of their last cigarette and that they experience cravings for cigarettes, even when controlling for other differences between the groups. For example, while a quarter of non-menthol smoking teens reported experiencing cravings, over a third of menthol smoking teens experienced cravings.

Another similar study by James Hersey and colleagues found very similar results and suggested that menthol cigarettes are becoming a starter product for youth. A resent paper by Kreslake and colleagues analyzed tobacco industry documents and found evidence that the tobacco industry has learned that young smokers prefer a medium menthol taste, which helps mask the harshness of nicotine but doesn’t contain too strong a menthol flavor. Brands that have followed this strategy have become dominant in the young menthol smoker segment, leading to long term growth in market share. When this evidence is combined with the evidence that many menthol smokers find it harder to quit smoking (discussed previously), it provides even stronger reason for the FDA to consider regulating menthol as an additive in cigarettes.

References.
Hersey JC, Ng SW, Nonnemaker JM, Mowery P, Thomas KY, Vilsaint MC, Allen JA,
Haviland ML. Are menthol cigarettes a starter product for youth? Nicotine Tob
Res. 2006 Jun;8(3):403-13. PubMed PMID: 16801298.

Kreslake JM, Wayne GF, Alpert HR, Koh HK, Connolly GN. Tobacco industry
control of menthol in cigarettes and targeting of adolescents and young adults.
Am J Public Health. 2008 Sep;98(9):1685-92. Epub 2008 Jul 16. PubMed PMID:
18633084.

Wackowski O, Delnevo CD. Menthol cigarettes and indicators of tobacco
dependence among adolescents. Addict Behav. 2007 Sep;32(9):1964-9. Epub 2006 Dec
22. PubMed PMID: 17229528.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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