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Tougher to Quit Menthol Cigarettes?

Study Shows More Risk for Smoking Relapse With Menthol Cigarettes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 25, 2006 -- Menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit smoking than nonmenthol cigarettes, doctors write in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The doctors included Mark Pletcher, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco.

They checked data on 1,535 smokers from a 15-year study of heart health.

When the study started in 1985, participants were 18-30 years old. They got a checkup and noted their smoking habits in 1985 and two, five, seven, 10, and 15 years later.

The group included 972 people who smoked menthol cigarettes, which have a minty flavor, and 563 who smoked nonmenthol cigarettes.

Of those smokers, 878 were black. The vast majority of the black smokers -- 783 people, or nearly 90% -- smoked menthol cigarettes.

Study's Findings

Over the years, all smokers were at risk for heart and lung problems, whether they smoked menthol or nonmenthol cigarettes.

Menthol smokers had increased risk to start smoking again. They also seemed to be less likely to try to quit smoking, or to successfully quit smoking, although these trends may have been due to chance.

The reasons for those findings aren't clear.

The study included few whites who smoked menthol cigarettes, and few blacks who smoked nonmenthol cigarettes.

It's hard to tell whether menthol cigarettes made it harder to quit smoking, or whether menthol cigarette smokers were less likely to quit smoking for other reasons.

It's possible that switching from menthol to nonmenthol cigarettes might make it easier to quit smoking, the researchers note. But they didn't test that theory directly.

"The primary goal of public health officials, physicians, and patients should be to reduce all tobacco smoke exposure regardless of menthol content," Pletcher's team writes.

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