Due to their minty taste and aroma, menthol tobacco products are often found more preferable than the bitter aftertaste and smell of regular cigarettes. Unfortunately, many smokers harbor the misconception that switching to menthol can help with smoking cessation. A recent study published in the journal Respirology has revealed that although better tasting than regular cigarettes, menthol cigarettes carry a higher risk of developing lung disease and being hospitalized as a result of complications.

Researchers recruited 1,941 regular cigarette smokers and 3,758 menthol smokers to compare each group's overall health condition over the course of 18 months. Participants were between the ages of 45 and 80 and smoked at least 10 packs of cigarettes each year. The research team found that menthol smokers were more likely to be young, female, or black. Regular cigarette smokers were able to cover a longer distance in six minutes, while menthol smokers were more short of breath.

Although both groups had similar frequencies of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) “exacerbations” — worsening of the condition — throughout the study, menthol smokers had a higher frequency of severe exacerbations at 0.22 per year, compared to 0.18 per year for regular cigarette smokers. Using menthol cigarettes as opposed to regular cigarettes was also associated with a 29 percent higher risk of severe lung disease exacerbations.

“We were surprised that menthol smokers, compared to non-menthol cigarette smokers, reported more severe exacerbations and had greater odds of experiencing severe exacerbations,” Dr. Marilyn Foreman of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga., told Reuters Health in an email. “Frequent exacerbations do affect quality of life and may result in greater loss of lung function over time.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, over 40 percent of youth smokers and 30 percent of adult smokers in the United States report smoking menthol cigarettes. Following repeated attempts by anti-smoking campaigns to have the FDA ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, the administration recently began a series of studies to gauge the health-related impact of these tobacco products.

Source: Park S, Demeo D, Foreman M, et al. Menthol cigarette smoking in the COPDGene cohort: Relationship with COPD, comorbidities and CT metrics. Respirology. 2014.