Menthol-flavored cigarettes make smoking an easier habit to start, and harder to quit, according to a new review from the FDA that quite likely moves the agency one step closer to banning the additive.
Menthol, which makes cigarettes taste minty, and also acts as a counterirritant, is found in about a quarter of all cigarettes sold in America. Menthols are more commonly sold (and marketed towards) African American smokers and communities of a lower socioeconomic status, something confirmed by the FDA's review. While the research, released today, didn't find any indication that the additive increases the toxicity of cigarettes on its own or leads to an increased risk of diseases already associated with smoking, it did find evidence to support the conclusion that menthol cigarettes increase the likelihood of initiation into a smoking habit, especially in younger smokers:
Data show that newer smokers prefer menthol at levels substantially above that of the general population, with an inverse correlation between age and menthol preference that reaches a plateau in adulthood.
The review also suggests that menthol smokers demonstrate an increased dependence on their habit, noting that "menthol smokers are more likely to smoke their first cigarette within five minutes of waking." On a related point, that increased dependence in part contributes to a lower quitting rate among menthol smokers: "In the reviewed studies, menthol smokers, especially African American menthol smokers, were less likely to successfully stop smoking than their nonmenthol smoking counterparts," it reads.
While the review itself isn't a regulatory document, the agency has now opened a period of public comment on "potential regulation on menthol in cigarettes,” the New York Times notes, which will remain open for 60 days. After that, if today's review is any indication, we could see the end of menthol cigarettes in America as we know it. Read the full review here: