Menthol, a gateway drug?
New reports of declining cigarette use are encouraging, portending healthier lives for millions more Americans and lower health care costs for everyone. But as the number of smokers declines to a hard core, it becomes harder to make progress.
The Food and Drug Administration has taken a major stride toward an answer with a report detailing the impact of menthol in smoking addiction.
About 25 percent of all smokers prefer menthol-infused cigarettes. The FDA said those cigarettes are no more lethal than the non-menthol variety, but that they make it easier to begin smoking and harder to quit.
"... Adequate data suggest that menthol use is likely associated with increased smoking initiation by youth and young adults. Further, the data indicate that menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with greater addiction. Menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking. These findings, combined with the evidence indicating that menthol's cooling and anesthetic properties can reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and the evidence indicating that menthol cigarettes are marketed as a smoother alternative to nonmenthol cigarettes, make it likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with nonmenthol cigarettes," the report concluded.
There no longer is any dispute that cigarette-smoking is deadly. It also is well-settled that if someone does not smoke before 18, it is highly unlikely that he will take up the habit and become addicted.
The FDA should follow through on the study's conclusions and ban menthol use in cigarettes. Doing so surely would help to bring down the death toll, which stands at about 400,000 a year despite progress against smoking.