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Menthol Cigarette Use High Among US Young Adult Smokers

Aug 30, 2013 04:46 PM EDT

Young adults in the U.S. are smoking more menthol cigarettes, perhaps in part to a variety of new products directly marketed to that demographic, according to a new study published in the international journal Tobacco Control.

"Our findings indicate that youth are heavy consumers of mentholated cigarettes, and that overall menthol cigarette smoking has either remained constant or increased in all three age groups we studied, while non-menthol smoking has decreased," said lead researcher Gary Giovino professor of State University of New York at Buffalo's Department of Community Health and Health Behaviors.

Giovino, a leading tobacco surveillance researcher, examined smoking data gathered from about 84,000 menthol and non-menthol cigarette users between 2004 and 2010.

Among the finding were that menthol cigarettes were the most popular for the youngest age group in the study. More than half (56.7 percent) of smokers between 12 and 17 years old used menthol cigarettes. As smokers' age increased, the use of menthol cigarettes decreased, with 45 percent of 18-to-25 year olds and about 31 percent for smokers older than 25.

Young, non-white females were most commonly associated with menthol cigarettes, Giovino found.

He also observed that, overall, the use of non-menthol cigarettes in the six-year study period declined, while menthol cigarette use remained constant. In young adult smokers, however, the percent of menthol smokers increased while non-menthol smokers decreased. Popular brands among adolescent and young adult menthol smokers were Camel and Marlboro.

"The FDA is considering banning menthol cigarettes, or other regulatory options," Giovino said. "This research provides an important view of the trends and patterns of menthol use in the nation as a whole."

He added: "The study results should inform the FDA regarding the potential public health impact of a menthol ban."

Giovino said that his study indicated that "mentholated cigarettes are a 'starter product' for kids," and he suggests that because the act of inhaling the smoke of a menthol cigarette is easier, it makes beginning smokers a target audience.

"Simply stated, menthol sweetens the poison, making it easier to smoke. Young people often think menthol cigarettes are safer, in part because they feel less harsh," he said.

"When I was growing up, one of my older friends said he didn't think that menthol cigarette smoking was that dangerous because he was told that they were good for you if you got a cold," Giovino said. "It turns out that Kool was advertising that way for a long time but was stopped from doing so by the Federal Trade Commission around 1955.

"This 'urban legend' has persisted."

Giovino's research was funded by Legacy for Health, a non-profit group whose primary mission is to reduce tobacco use.

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