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Menthol Cigarettes Not More Harmful Than Regular Ones

March 24, 2011

On March 23, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published findings on the effects of mentholated cigarettes on developing lung cancer in black and white smokers.

They were expecting the study to support that mentholated cigarettes were more toxic to smokers, but were surprised to find that the risk of lung cancer was not higher in menthol smokers than non-menthol smokers.

In the study, William Blot of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee says, “In fact, it was a bit lower in mentholated compared to non-mentholated smokers and there was no significant difference in the rate of quitting smoking,”

Blot told Reuters via telephone: “It was about 30 percent lower,” which is “statistically significant,” concluding that menthol cigarettes are not more toxic than regular ones.

Bolt and his colleagues led a prospective study among more than 85,000 people who are enrolled in the Southern Community Cohort Study – a large ongoing multiracial study conducted in 12 states. Within the cohort, the researchers identified 440 lung cancer patients to be compared with 2,213 matched controls. The control group consisted of “other people in the study with the same demographics, such as race, age and sex, but without lung cancer,” reports the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study concluded that menthol cigarettes may be less harmful than non-mentholated cigarettes. Out of their sample of participants, the researchers found that there was lower lung cancer development and fewer deaths than regular cigarette smokers.

For example, menthol smokers of 20 or more cigarettes a day were 12 times more likely to develop lung cancer, while non-menthol smokers with the same number of cigarettes per day were 21 times more likely to have the disease. These numbers are compared to people who have never smoked a cigarette.

The study also found that menthol cigarettes are not more addictive; in fact, it suggested that they smoke fewer cigarettes than regular cigarette smokers.

“Our data indicated there is no evidence that menthol smokers have a harder time quitting smoking,” says Bolt.

Menthol cigarettes have been getting popular with adolescents, with the highest use among newer and younger people, reports Reuters. Blot’s study looked at older smokers; therefore, he said it could not make any conclusions that it is easier for younger smokers to tolerate smoking when menthol is added to cigarettes.

It has been argued by health advocates that menthol flavoring covers up the harshness of tobacco and makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit. Manufacturers of menthol cigarettes have always defended menthol, saying it does not make a cigarette more harmful or addictive.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering whether to ban or regulate mentholated cigarettes and the study couldn’t come more timely.

“Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in the United States, but undue emphasis on reduction of menthol relative to other cigarettes may distract from the ultimate health prevention message that smoking of any cigarettes is injurious to health,” the study states.

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