Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While bans on cigarette smoking are more widespread than ever, and taxes on tobacco products continue to rise, young adults are embracing mentholated cigarettes more than ever, according to a new study in the 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 study author Gary Giovino, chair of the University at Buffalo Department of Community Health and Health Behaviors.
Using data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, Giovino and his co-authors included 390,000 persons ages 12 years old and older. Approximately, 84,000 people in the study cohort said they were smokers.
The study found that menthol cigarettes were most common among smokers 12 to 17 years old, at 57 percent. At 45 percent, they were less popular among the 18-to-25 set. In all, the mint-flavored cigarettes were most associated with smokers that were non-white, female and younger.
The statistics on menthol cigarettes also went against the overall trend of lower rates of smoking. Among all young adults, the percent who smoked regular cigarettes declined while menthol smoking rates remained steady, the report said.
“The FDA is considering banning menthol cigarettes, or other regulatory options,” Gioviono said. “This research provides an important view of the trends and patterns of menthol use in the nation as a whole. The FDA will consider these findings and findings from multiple other studies as it goes forward.”
“This finding indicates that mentholated cigarettes are a ‘starter product’ for kids in part because menthol makes it easier to inhale for beginners,” he continued. “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.
“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 noted. “It turns out that Kool was advertising that way for a long time but was stopped from doing so by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) around 1955.”
“This ‘urban legend’ has persisted,” he added.
The study comes as the New York Times has been reporting on the rise in popularity of electronic cigarettes among its city’s younger crowd. Designed to replicate the smoking experience, electronic cigarettes heat up and release a synthetic nicotine vapor that can be inhaled without most of the harmful chemicals that come with smoking traditional cigarettes.
Sales of e-cigarettes have grown in recent years, reaching $500 million in 2012 and expected to hit $1 billion this year. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on their growing popularity in local “bars, restaurants and workplaces” one decade after Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned traditional cigarettes from public places.
Jenny Haliski, a spokeswoman for the FDA, told the Times that her agency is considering extending its authority over e-cigarettes.
“Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products,” she said.