Teenagers who smoke menthols smoke more cigarettes per day than their peers, a new Canadian study finds.
As past research suggests, menthols are more addictive than other types of cigarettes, a higher frequency of smoking was seen among nearly 5,000 adolescents in grades 9 to 12 in a nationally representative sampling. Moreover, teenagers who smoked menthols also reported a greater intention to continue smoking.
"The appeal of menthol cigarettes among youth stems from the perception that they are less harmful than regular cigarettes,” lead researcher Sunday Azagba said in a statement. “The minty taste helps mask the noxious properties, but the reality is that they are just as dangerous as any unflavored cigarette.”
In Canada, one in 10 high school students in grades 10 to 12 currently smoke cigarettes, with one-third of them smoking menthols. The Canadian government in 2010 banned the sale of most flavored tobacco products — including cigars and blunt wraps — with the exception of the highly popular menthols. And only the province of Alberta has passed a pending law to prohibit sale of the product.
“There is a growing concern that the high popularity of menthol cigarettes among youth may hinder the recent progress in preventing other young people from smoking because many of them may experiment with menthol rather than unflavored brands,” Azagba said.
Likewise, menthol cigarettes remain popular in the United States as the tobacco industry spent $8.37 billion on advertising and marketing in the U.S. alone in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although smoking rates have declined among American teenagers during the past decade, 23.3 percent of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes. However, the CDC seems most critical of the tobacco industry’s targeting of minority groups in the U.S. “Advertisement and promotion of certain tobacco products appear to be targeted to members of racial/minority communities,” the CDC says in a fact sheet.
The American Lung Association also says that tobacco companies have long targeted minority groups in the U.S., and “advertising and promotion of cigarette brands with names such as Rio, Dorado, and American Spirit have been marketed toward Hispanics and American Indians and Alaska Natives.” Azagba says his findings on youth smoking alone warrant bans on flavored tobacco products, especially given that most smokers begin the habit as adolescents.
Source: Azagba S, Minaker L, Sharaf M, et al. Smoking intensity and intent to continue smoking among menthol and non-menthol adolescent smokers in Canada. Cancer Causes and Control. 2014.