Menthols Remain Popular With Teens

Smoking rates have dropped over the years but menthol cigarettes remain popular among young smokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Menthol cigarettes are no safer than regular cigarettes. But the unique flavor and “cooling” effect may be especially appealing to teens and young adults.

A recent study looked at smoking habits among adolescents and young adults in the US.

The results showed that while the smoking rate has declined, menthol cigarette use has remained steady among teens and young adults for several years.

"Avoid smoking any type of cigarette."

For this study, Gary A. Giovino, PhD, chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behaviors at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, led researchers to investigate the popularity of mentholated cigarettes among American youth.

Menthol is a flavor added to certain types of cigarettes, which have the same amount and type of tobacco and nicotine as regular cigarettes.

Previous research has shown that mentholated cigarettes do not cause any less physical harm than regular cigarettes.

“Young people often think menthol cigarettes are safer, in part because they feel less harsh,” Dr. Giovino said in a press statement.

Based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which samples US civilians ages 12 and older, the researchers looked at smoking habits from 2004 to 2010.

The NSDUH began asking about menthol cigarettes in particular in 2004.

Out of 389,698 responders, the researchers compared the answers from 43,616 smokers in the 2004 to 2006 group with 40,841 smokers in the 2008 to 2010 group for changes in habits.

More than any other group, menthol cigarettes were preferred by 58.4 percent adolescent smokers ages 12 to 15, and 55.8 percent of smokers ages 16 to 17. The researchers wrote that these percentages represented 1.2 million smokers.

Among young adult smokers, ages 18 to 25, 45 percent reported using menthol cigarettes. This percentage represented 5.2 million smokers in the US.

Only 34.7 percent of adult smokers, ages 26 and older, used menthol cigarettes, and the use of menthol cigarettes continued to decrease in older age groups.

Black smokers were over 25 times more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes compared with white smokers.

Women were 1.62 times more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes compared with men.

The overall rate of smoking cigarettes among adolescents fell from 6.0 percent in 2004 to 3.4 percent in 2010. But the rate of smoking mentholated cigarettes only went from 5.3 percent in 2004 to 4.5 percent in 2010. 

Among young adults, menthol use increased over time. In 2004, 14 percent smoked menthols, but by 2010, 16.3 percent smoked menthols. This increase happened even while non-mentholated cigarette use decreased.

In 2004, 25.7 percent of young adults smoked cigarettes, and in 2010, only 17.3 percent of young adults smoked.

“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,” Dr. Giovino continued.

This study was published in August in Tobacco Control.

Funding for this project was provided by Legacy, a public health non-profit focused on reducing tobacco use. The authors of this study declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 3, 2013
Last Updated:
September 3, 2013