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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Menthol is a cigarette flavoring derived primarily from plants in the mint family, specifically from peppermint and cornmint. Another commonly recognized source of menthol is spearmint. It is used as a flavoring in chewing gum and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in some over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals. Menthol is added to OTC products including nasal decongestants, expectorants, digestive aids, topical medications for insect bites and stings, for astringent drugs, orally administered menstrual products, mouthwashes (up to 2%), dandruff and sebhorrheic products, fever blister products, astringent product for insect bites and stings, poison ivy, oak or sumac, diaper rash and as a counter-irritant (at concentrations of 1 .25-16%) It is also used in cough syrups, and in lozenges or products intended for steam inhalation and in ano-rectal analgesics.

Use and application in cigarettes

Menthol has been used as a flavoring in American cigarettes since the 1920s. It may be applied to the inner foil of menthol cigarette packages or applied directly to the tobacco during cigarette manufacturing, and as such may be subject to pyrolysis type reactions when smoked. Transfer of menthol to mainstream cigarette smoke (the smoke the smoker inhales) has been shown to be approximately 30%. Menthol can also be applied to the cigarette filter as a flavoring material where it would not be subjected to temperatures high enough to burn it. Irrespective of how menthol is applied to the cigarette, because of its volatility, it is distributed throughout the cigarette. Menthol was among those ingredients added to tobacco which were disclosed by the tobacco industry to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and which was subsequently disclosed to the public in 1994.

Menthol and African American smokers

Epidemiological studies have shown a significantly higher incidence of mentholated cigarette use, as well as smoking-related cancers, among African Americans than in the white population of the United States. Duration of mentholated cigarette use was directly correlated to lung cancer in men but not in women. Mentholated cigarette use was associated with a 45% increase in the incidence of lung cancer in men who were long-term smokers.[1]

A Philip Morris paper documents a 1968 focus group session held with African-American smokers to probe their attitudes towards menthol cigarettes. It contains information that many of these smokers "discover" menthol cigarettes when they are sick--have a cold or sore throat. Also, people in this focus group understood that smoking was unhealthy, but they were also under the impression that menthol cigarettes were "better" for their health than regular cigarettes.

Key quotes from the document:

5. The self-identification with menthols was so strong that 6 out of 10 of our smokers declared Negroes are more likely to smoke than white people ... 6. All in all, the response strongly indicated that here was a product which by some virtue was especially suited to the needs, desires and tastes of Negro consumers ... 8...According to our data...the menthol taste and aroma in the mouth, the nose, the throat, the whole menthol experience is an especially stimulating and enjoyable one for 9 out of 10 of our Negro respondents. 9. In half the cases the menthol smoke was experienced as soothing, substantial, almost a light food. It might be no exaggerations to say that quite a few of our people were "eating" menthol. They were inhaling slowly, and turned around, almost "chewed" the smoke. Two of them said that menthol cigarettes were candy to them. One said it was chewing gum. Another said it was his "dessert" after a meal. 10. Other types of associations with eating also cropped up. One man and one woman stated, for instance, that if they have no time for snack or meal, they light a menthol and it will take its place ... 16 ... Menthol cigarettes are perceived as modern, up to date, youthful. ... 18. There are indications that menthols tend to be considered as generally "better for one's health." That impression refers not only to the health of the respiratory tract, but the whole organism. The majority view is that menthols are "less strong" and regular cigarettes, and that a cigarette which is "less strong" is better for a person's health. Here is a typical expression of that feeling shared by the large majority of our sample: "You see all the time how cigarettes ain't god for you but that if you smoke long cigarettes and menthol cigarettes they are not so strong and it's better than just plain tobacco without the menthol, so I guess that's why so many folks moke the menthol ones these days."[2]

Menthol and youth/beginning smokers

In July 2008, a study in the American Journal of Public Health described how tobacco companies have manipulated menthol levels in cigarettes to hook youngsters and maintain loyalty among smoking adults. [3]

Harder time quitting

In January 2009, a study of nearly 1,700 smokers attending a quit-smoking clinic at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) found that smokers of menthol cigarettes have a harder time quitting than people who smoke non-menthol cigarettes, even when the menthol smokers smoke fewer cigarettes per day. Jonathan Foulds, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Program at UMDNJ said, "More than 80 percent of the African American smokers attending our clinic smoke menthols, and they have half the quit rate of African Americans who smoke non-menthol cigarettes." Researchers believe that menthol's cooling effects make it easier to inhale more nicotine from each cigarette and thus obtain a more potent and addictive dose of the drug.[4]

FDA Scientific Advisory Panel review, 2011

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.[5][6]

Sourcewatch resources

External resources

Tobacco industry documents

  • Project "Y" Secret (RJR, 1977: "Smoking menthol allays to some extent the health concern.")

Published papers on menthol in cigarettes


  1. Philip Morris USAEvaluation of Menthol for Use as a Cigarette Ingredient Report/study. 91 pp. October 3, 2001. Bates No. 2067617005/7095
  2. Tibor Koeves Associates A Pilot Look at the Attitudes of Negro Smokers Toward Menthol Cigarettes September, 1968. Philip Morris Bates No. 1002483819/3830
  3. Stephanie Saul, New York Times Menthol Dose Manipulated, Study Says July 17, 2008. Business section
  4. University of Medicine and Dentistry New Jersey Menthol Cigarettes Are More Addictive, Press release. January 9, 2009
  5. United States Food and Drug Administration FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee report on Menthol, March 19, 2011
  6. Andrew Zajac Tobacco industry brushes off call for FDA restrictions on menthol cigarettes, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2011

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