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Health & Parenting

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Study: Young Smokers Lured With Menthol

Researchers Say Tobacco Companies Manipulate Menthol to Attract Youngsters, but Industry Denies It

Menthol and Cigarettes: Industry Responds

The tobacco industry disagrees with the study findings. The conclusions made in the study are not supported by the facts cited, says Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria Group, the market company of Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro, Alpine, Virginia Slims and other brands.

"Excerpts from several marketing documents from Philip Morris USA are used in the study report," he says. "All of them talk about adult smokers. We don't think kids should use tobacco and our marketing goal is to find ways to effectively and responsibly connect our brands with adult cigarette smokers."

"We disagree with the study's conclusion that the menthol levels in our products were manipulated to gain market share among adolescents."

Menthol and Cigarettes: Second Opinions

The study is "expanding on the science of menthol," says Neal Benowitz, MD, a professor of medicine and biopharmaceutical sciences at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and a long-time researcher on nicotine addiction. "It adds understanding about how tobacco companies design cigarettes with respect to the amount of menthol."

"The question of whether they are specifically targeted to adolescents is hard to say."

But in his opinion, based on his research and others, the menthol can make the cigarette taste better. "There is some evidence that those who smoke menthol have a harder time quitting," he tells WebMD. And some research suggests they may have a higher rate of relapse once they do try to quit, he says.

"Menthol makes the nicotine more addictive," he believes.

Another expert agrees. "While the direct contribution of menthol to the addiction and harm caused by cigarettes is not clear, there is no question that use of the substance can essentially grease the path to addiction and associated diseases," says Jack Henningfield, PhD, vice president of research and health policy at Pinney Associates, a health consulting and risk management firm in Bethesda, Md. and professor and director of the Innovators Awards Program at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

The Harvard researchers call for federal regulation of tobacco products, including additives such as menthol.

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