March 23, 2011 -- People who smoke menthol cigarettes are no more likely -- and may actually be less likely -- to develop lung cancer than people who smoke non-menthol cigarettes, a study suggests.
The study, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, comes out nearly a week after an FDA advisory panel stated that removing menthol cigarettes from the market may improve public health because menthol cigarettes may be more difficult to quit than non-menthol cigarettes and may be more enticing to young smokers because of their minty taste.
Menthol cigarettes are also more popular with African-American smokers, who have a higher incidence of lung cancer.
But “the new study information almost closes the door on the lung cancer issue,” says study researcher William J. Blot, PhD, of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville. “The main message is that cigarettes are harmful, regardless of whether they are menthol or non-menthol, and the best action is to quit smoking.”
“I don’t think there is enough scientific evidence to justify a ban of menthol cigarettes in comparison with non-menthol cigarettes,” Blot says.
In the study, researchers identified 440 people with lung cancer among 85,806 study participants from 12 Southern states. They compared the smoking status and cigarette preferences of lung cancer patients with those of 2,213 people without lung cancer.
They found that smoking menthol cigarettes was actually associated with a significantly lower rate of lung cancer and lung cancer deaths than smoking non-menthol cigarettes.
Among pack-a-day smokers, menthol smokers were 12 times more likely to develop lung cancer compared to never smokers; those who smoked non-menthol cigarettes were 21 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who never smoked.
What’s more, smokers who chose menthol cigarettes also smoked fewer cigarettes per day than those who smoked non-menthol cigarettes, and the quitting rate was similar between both menthol and non-menthol smokers. Previous studies have suggested that it may be harder to quit if you smoke menthol cigarettes.
Now Blot and colleagues plan to look at biochemical markers of tobacco smoke to see if there are any important differences between African-American and white smokers and menthol and non-menthol smokers. “Menthol is off the table, but the reason why African-American men have higher rates of lung cancer is still not clear,” he says.