Study: Young Smokers Lured With Menthol
Researchers Say Tobacco Companies Manipulate Menthol to Attract Youngsters, but Industry Denies It
July 18 2008 -- Cigarette makers manipulate the level of menthol in
cigarettes, keeping it low to attract young smokers, then boosting it for older
ones, according to a new study by Harvard researchers.
A spokesman for a major tobacco company denies the finding, saying the study
doesn't square with the facts.
Menthol cigarette brands have been increasing in popularity among U.S. teens, with younger teen
smokers likely to choose a menthol brand, Harvard researchers say. Sales of
menthol cigarettes in the U.S. stayed stable from 2000 to 2005, according to
the report, while overall sales of cigarette packs decreased by 22%.
Menthol cigarette use among teens increased between 2000 and 2002, with
newer, younger smokers most likely to use them.
Menthol Levels in Cigarettes
The research team analyzed data from tobacco industry documents that
describe the development of menthol products, lab-tested various U.S. menthol
cigarette brands, examined market research reports, and drew from the 2006
National Survey on Drug Use and Health to reach their conclusions.
The study is published online early and in the September 2008 issue of the
American Journal of Public Health.
"The tobacco industry has knowingly manipulated the menthol contents [of
cigarettes]," says Jennifer Kreslake, MPH, the study's lead author and a
research analyst at the Harvard School of Public Health. "So it has created
and customized brands in order to attract young, inexperienced smokers and also
to lock in the older smokers who have become addicted."
"Menthol itself isn't addictive," she says. But some experts believe
that menthol could increase the addictiveness of the nicotine.
"The driving factor behind any smoking behavior is addiction to
the nicotine," Kreslake tells WebMD. Adding menthol, she says, makes
smoking easier to tolerate for young smokers.
Her team has found that some new, young smokers can't tolerate "the
irritation and harshness associated with regular cigarettes," she says.
"Menthol helps to alleviate some of the harshness."
The researchers analyzed about 580 documents dating from 1985 to 2007,
including product development activities from cigarettes makers that talked
about preferred menthol levels and delivery as well as plans and marketing
objectives related to menthol tobacco products.
"What the internal documents we reviewed revealed was that a low level
of menthol is appealing among young smokers," she says. "As they become
more experienced, they start craving the higher levels of menthol. We don't
Cigarette makers, she says, "have created lower menthol brands that end
up being popular among younger smokers." Among them are Newport and
Marlboro Mild, she says.