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Menthol cigarettes target young

21st July 2008

A new study in the United States says that tobacco companies use levels of menthol in cigarettes to attract younger people to start smoking.


Harvard University researchers say cigarette makers manipulate the level of menthol in cigarettes, keeping it low to attract young smokers, then boosting it for older ones.

But an industry spokesman said the study did not match the facts.

Younger teen smokers in the United States have been shown to prefer a menthol brand of cigarettes. While overall cigarette sales fell by 22% in the period from 2000 and 2005, sales of menthol cigarettes stayed flat, showing a relative increase in popularity.

Menthol cigarette use among teens increased between 2000 and 2002, with newer, younger smokers most likely to use them, according to researchers, who looked at data from tobacco industry documents that describe the development of menthol products and tested various US menthol cigarette brands in the laboratory.

They also examined market research reports, and drew from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, publishing their results in the American Journal of Public Health.

Lead author Jennifer Kreslake from the Harvard School of Public Health accused the tobacco industry of knowingly manipulating the menthol contents of cigarettes, creating and customising brands in order to attract young, inexperienced smokers, while "locking in" older smokers who had already become addicted.

Some experts believe that menthol may increase the addictiveness of nicotine in cigarettes, and Kreslake said it made smoking easier to tolerate for young smokers.

The team found that some new, young smokers could not tolerate the irritation and harshness associated with regular cigarettes, and menthol helped to alleviate that.

Drawing on about 580 documents dating from 1985 to 2007, including product development activities from cigarette makers that talked about preferred menthol levels and delivery as well as plans and marketing objectives related to menthol tobacco products, the team found that a lower level of menthol appeals to young smokers, who then craved higher levels of menthol as they got older.

The industry rejected the study findings, saying that the facts the team cited did not back up the study's conclusions.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria Group, the market company of Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro, Alpine, Virginia Slims and other brands, said some marketing documents quoted in fact referred to adult smokers.

He said the company did not think children should use tobacco, and that it aimed to provide brands for adult smokers.

He denied that menthol levels in Philip Morris USA products were manipulated to gain market share among adolescents.

Professor Neal Benowitz at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine said there was some evidence to show that those who smoke menthol cigarettes have a harder time quitting the habit than other smokers, and a higher rate of relapse once they do try to quit.

Other experts agreed that use of menthol could smooth the path to nicotine addiction and smoking-related diseases.

The Harvard researchers called for menthol to be factored into the current debate in Congress over the federal regulation of tobacco products.

Phelps said Philip Morris USA has supported FDA regulation of tobacco products for seven years.


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Article Information

Title: Menthol cigarettes target young
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 7580
Date Added: 21st Jul 2008


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