Menthol Cigarettes May Be Tougher to Quit

Study Shows Smoking-Cessation Efforts Are Less Successful for Smokers of Menthol Cigarettes

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 15, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 15, 2011 -- Smoking menthol cigarettes may make it harder to quit the smoking habit.

A new study shows people who smoke the mint-flavored cigarettes are less likely to be successful at smoking cessation. This effect is especially pronounced among certain ethnic groups.

The results showed that menthol cigarette smokers were about 9% less likely to have quit smoking overall compared with those who smoked non-menthol cigarettes. But in looking at quit rates among certain ethnic groups who smoke menthol cigarettes, Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin were 43% less likely and African-Americans were 19% less likely to quit smoking.

Researchers say the findings support a recent FDA advisory committee's recommendation that the agency remove menthol cigarettes from the market to improve public health.

"It follows from these results that recent calls to ban menthol flavoring would be prudent and evidence-based," write researcher Cristine D. Delnevo, PhD, MPH, of the Center for Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Research at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The FDA is considering the action.

Menthol vs. Non-Menthol

Using information gathered from 2003 and 2006/2007 national surveys, researchers looked at smoking-cessation rates among menthol and non-menthol cigarette smokers. Then they compared smoking-cessation rates among different ethnic groups.

Overall, the results show that menthol cigarette smoking was associated with lower levels of smoking cessation for all groups.

Menthol cigarette smoking was much more common among African-Americans (71.8%) and Hispanics (28.1%) than whites (21%).

When researchers looked closer at smoking-cessation rates among different ethnic groups and subgroups, they found a wide variation in success rates.

For example, menthol cigarette smoking among Hispanics of Mexican origin was not significantly associated with smoking cessation.

However, Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin who smoked menthols were 43% less likely to quit smoking compared with non-menthol smokers. African-Americans who smoked menthol cigarettes were 19% less likely to be successful at smoking cessation than non-menthol smokers.

"Historically, smoking cessation research has generally grouped Hispanics together and contrasted them with non-Hispanic whites, thus ignoring the broad heterogeneity of the Hispanic population," says Delnevo in a news release. "By further drilling down into these subgroups, the opportunity exists to develop targeted interventions for quit efforts among this population."

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Delnevo, C. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Aug. 10, 2011; vol 306: pp 613-619.

News release, Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

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