Tobacco Prevention and Control:
What is menthol?
Menthol is a compound added to many tobacco products that provides a minty flavor and cooling effect to the mouth and throat. In 2009 the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed, giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to ban characterizing flavors in cigarettes. However, this ban did not include menthol additives, and excluded many other tobacco products.
While reports indicate that non-menthol cigarette use is declining, the use of mentholated cigarettes (oftentimes called menthols) is actually increasing, especially among youth. Evidence shows menthol flavoring in cigarettes plays a major role in increasing youth initiation of smoking, makes smoking enticing to current smokers, and creates an environment which fuels the lack of health equity in our society. Additionally, menthol additives make it more difficult for some smokers to quit, despite increased quit attempts.
Menthols and Minnesota youth
The percentage of Minnesota high school smokers who usually smoke menthol cigarettes has more than doubled from 19.9 percent in 2000 to 47.3 percent in 2011. Nationally, more than 40 percent of middle and high school children who smoke use flavored little cigars, or flavored cigarettes such as menthols.
Marketing of menthol cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco has become a growing concern as the rate of Minnesota youth using menthol cigarettes continues to rise. Menthol’s minty flavoring appeals to children and new smokers as the flavor can mask the harshness of tobacco on the mouth and throat.
Menthols and Minnesota adults
Menthol cigarettes are used by many Minnesota smokers; 22 percent of adult smokers in Minnesota usually smoke menthol cigarettes.
Menthols and health inequity
The tobacco industry has a long and well-documented history of marketing mentholated brands of cigarettes to racial and ethnic minorities. As a result, menthol cigarettes are used disproportionately in communities of color: African Americans (82.6 percent), Hispanics or Latinos (32.3 percent), and Asian Americans (31.2 percent).
The high rate of promotion of menthol cigarettes to racial and ethnic minority smokers – and the resulting disproportionate rates of use – impacts lack of health equity and contributes greatly to health disparities, which are the preventable differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of disease and other adverse health conditions that exist between specific populations.
This information is also available in PDF form: Menthol Tobacco Products (PDF: 196KB/2 pages)
For more information:
- American Legacy Foundation: Menthol Fact Sheet
- FDA: Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes
- MDH: Teens and Tobacco in Minnesota, 2011 Update (PDF: 535KB/69 pages)