Why is Menthol Added to Cigarettes?

Menthol in Cigarettes – The Soothing Taste Makes Smoking More Appealing

Dear Dr. Mahler: I am writing about my father who smokes about 10 menthol cigarettes each day even though he has moderate COPD. He believes that this counteracts the nicotine and toxins in cigarette smoke. He uses two different inhalers to breathe each day. I notice a lot of advertisements promoting mentholated cigarettes. Please provide information to share with my father. Thanks. Jasmine from Newark, NJ Dear Jasmine, Menthol is a natural substance found in mint plants, such as peppermint and spearmint. It gives a soothing sensation, and may be used to relieve minor pain and irritation.
Mint plant contains menthol

Mint plant

Why do Tobacco Companies Add Menthol to Cigarettes?
Newport is the most popular menthol cigarette

Newport is a popular menthol cigarette in the US

The “soothing” taste allows many smokers to feel less irritation in their throat while smoking and to take deeper breaths.  It is currently the only flavor that be added to cigarettes by law. Metholated cigarettes represent about 25% of all cigarettes on the market with Newport being the most popular brand in the US.     Is There Harm in Smoking Mentholated Cigarettes? In 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration published a report that menthol cigarette use is one reason that young adults start smoking. Also, the report cited evidence that menthol in cigarettes is associated with greater nicotine addiction. Mentholated cigarette users are also less likely to successfully quit smoking. Can Menthol Contribute to Nicotine Addiction? Studies show that it reduces metabolism (the breakdown) of nicotine by the body.    What About Mentholated Cigarettes in African-Americans? In the United States, menthols comprise about 30% of the total cigarette market. However, these flavored cigarettes are purchased disproportionately by African-American smokers as more than 80% of African-American smokers currently use mentholated cigarettes. This may be a result, at least in part, of adds, discount coupons, and free samples of metholated cigarettes targeted at this group. Studies show that African-Americans suffer higher rates of smoking related health problems even though they smoke at similar rates as Caucasians. Jasmine – Please share this information with your father. Hopefully, it will help him decide that it is time to quit smoking. Sincerely, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.