Minorities may find menthol cigarettes harder to kick

By Tom Nordlie • Published: March 17th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

About one-quarter of the cigarettes sold in the U-S contain menthol, a chemical that gives the smoke a cooling sensation and a refreshing, minty taste.

Menthol cigarettes are three times as popular among blacks as they are among whites.

But a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine suggests that menthol poses a hidden danger for minorities… it might make quitting harder.

The study used data from almost eight-thousand past and present adult smokers. The group included whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Among whites who had stopped smoking, virtually the same percentages had quit menthol and non-menthol varieties.

However, among blacks, sixty-two percent of those who smoked regular cigarettes had quit. Only forty-four percent of menthol smokers had kicked the habit.

Among Hispanics, sixty-one percent of those who smoked regular cigarettes had quit, compared with forty-nine percent of menthol smokers.

The results beg the question, why would a person’s ethnic background make a difference here?

The researchers didn’t have easy answers.

One possibility lies in perceived risk.

The researchers said cigarette marketing aimed at blacks has implied that menthol cigarettes are less harmful than non-menthol varieties.

Menthol smokers who accepted this idea might feel less urgency to quit.

In any event, more research is needed, and the stakes are literally life and death.

Even though whites and blacks have similar rates of smoking, blacks have a greater incidence of and higher mortality rates for some tobacco-related cancers.

By understanding the appeal of menthol cigarettes, scientists may be able to devise better strategies to help people stop using them.

Now that would be refreshing.