Menthol masks the harshness and irritation of cigarettes, allowing delivery of an effective dose of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes. These milder products were then marketed to the youngest potential consumers.
The researchers reviewed internal tobacco industry documents on menthol product development, conducted laboratory tests to measure menthol content in U.S. brands, examined market research reports and drew data from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationally representative survey among U.S. residents aged twelve years and older.
The industry documents showed, according to the scientists, that tobacco companies researched how controlling menthol levels could increase brand sales among specific groups. The companies determined that products with higher menthol levels and stronger perceived menthol sensation suited long-term smokers of menthol cigarettes while milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers. They then introduced, positioned and marketed milder menthol products to appeal primarily to new menthol smokers. Menthol brands with the greatest market share growth among young adults had the lowest menthol levels among the brands tested.
The 2006 national survey showed that a significantly greater proportion of adolescent and young adult smokers used menthol brands compared to older smokers. In 2006, 43.8 percent of current smokers aged twelve to 17 years reported that they used menthol cigarettes as did 35.6 percent of current smokers aged 18 to 24 years. By contrast, 30.6 percent of smokers older than 35 years reported menthol use.
The researchers suggest that the rapid introduction of new milder menthol brands in the past decade is a violation of the Master Settlement Agreement that prohibits the companies from directly or indirectly targeting youths.
MEDICA.de; Source: Harvard School of Public Health