Tobacco Companies in Recent Years Adjusted Menthol Levels in Different Brands of Cigarettes to Attract Younger Smokers, Study Finds
Cigarette companies in recent years adjusted the level of menthol in different brands of cigarettes to attract younger smokers and maintain the business of older smokers, according to a report published Wednesday in the American Journal of Public Health, the New York Times reports (Saul, New York Times, 7/17). For the report, Harvard School of Public Health researchers led by Howard Koh and Gregory Connolly reviewed industry documents from previous decades related to product development and strategic plans for menthol products (Freking, Associated Press, 7/17).
The study showed that since 2000, various changes were made to menthol levels in cigarettes targeted at different groups of smokers. According to the study, cigarette manufacturers "discovered that products with higher menthol levels and stronger perceived menthol sensations suited long-term smokers of menthol cigarettes, and milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers." The study also notes that 44% of smokers between ages 12 and 17 prefer menthol cigarettes (New York Times, 7/17).
Connolly said, "We found that, once again, menthol was the predominant brand smoked by [black] teens, and they smoked it at higher rates than older [blacks]." He added, "Surprisingly, we found that [white] teens smoked menthol at higher rates than expected, indicating that" urban trends are expanding to other areas (Gardner, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 7/16).
According to Koh, the tobacco industry undertook "a very sophisticated strategy to lure in youth with lower menthol levels and then lock in adult customers who become acclimated to menthol and give them the higher levels they want." Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, maker of the best-selling menthol brand Newport, denied the researchers' claims and challenged the study's findings.
The Times reports that the study "could further inflame a controversy over menthol in pending tobacco legislation" (HR 1108, S 625) that would give FDA regulatory authority over cigarettes (New York Times, 7/17). Flavorings such as cloves or strawberry would be prohibited, but menthol would be exempt from the ban -- due to a compromise necessary to advance the legislation (Moore, Bloomberg/Houston Chronicle, 7/16).
Koh said, "The view of our team is that the FDA bill has the authority to regulate menthol and to do it in a scientifically sound fashion in a very, very complex area." A statement from R.J. Reynolds said, "It would appear this report is simply an effort to push support for federal regulation of the tobacco industry, not a scientific review of the menthol category" (New York Times, 7/17).
An abstract of the study is available online.