Origins and history
Menthol cigarettes were first developed by Lloyd "Spud" Hughes of Mingo Junction, Ohio in 1924, though the idea did not become popular until the Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company acquired the patent in 1927, marketing them nationwide as "Spud Menthol Cooled Cigarettes". Spud brand menthol cigarettes went on to become the fifth most popular brand in the US by 1932, and it remained the only menthol cigarette on the market until the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company created the Kool brand in 1933.
For over two decades, Kools were the only significant menthol cigarette brand in the United States, with a market share that never got much above 2%. Their advertisements focused on "throat comfort" and the "medicinal" properties of menthol, and some ads even suggested occasional use: "In between the others, rest your throat with Kools."
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company launched the first menthol filter-tip cigarettes in 1956 under the Salem brand. Less heavily mentholated than Kools, Salems were positioned as an all-purpose cigarette, and captured 0.8% market share within their first year. Other tobacco producers, seeing the success of Salem, soon introduced their own mentholated filter cigarettes: Lorillard with Newport in 1957 and Spring in 1959; Philip Morris with Alpine in 1959; and Brown & Williamson with Belair in 1960.
Design and manufacture
Menthol cigarettes are constructed similarly to non-mentholated cigarettes, with menthol added at any of several stages during the manufacturing process. Menthol may be derived from distilled corn mint oil, or produced synthetically. While trace amounts of menthol may be added to non-mentholated cigarettes for flavor or other reasons, a menthol cigarette typically has at least 0.3% menthol content by weight. Lower-tar menthol cigarettes may have menthol levels up to 2%, in order to keep menthol delivery constant despite the filtration and ventilation designs used to reduce tar.
A recent innovation has been to include a small capsule in or near the filter which can be crushed to release additional menthol or other flavoring solutions. During the smoking of a cigarette the menthol delivery depletes noticeably, but this technology allows the smoker to increase the menthol delivery at a chosen point to sustain or enhance the menthol 'feel'. The capsules can contain any flavorings but are primarily menthol.
Use and popularity
Menthol cigarette usage varies widely by country. They are most popular in the Philippines, where they account for over 60% of total cigarette sales.
In the United States, menthols comprise about 30% of the total cigarette market. Menthol cigarettes are purchased disproportionately by African-American smokers, with 80% of African-American smokers consuming menthol cigarettes primarily. The proportion of smokers who use menthols rose from 31% in 2004 to 33.7% in 2010, according to a 2010 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Much of the increase comes from young people.
Racial marketing strategies changed among American tobacco companies during the 1950s. The civil rights movement led to the rise of African-American publications, such as Ebony. This helped tobacco companies to target separate marketing messages by race.:57 Tobacco companies supported civil rights organizations, and advertised their support heavily. Industry motives were, according to their public statements, to support civil rights causes; according to an independent review of internal tobacco industry documents, they were "to increase African American tobacco use, to use African Americans as a frontline force to defend industry policy positions, and to defuse tobacco control efforts". There had been internal resistance to tobacco sponsorship, and some organizations are now rejecting nicotine funding as a matter of policy.
Race-specific advertising exacerbated small (a few percent) racial differences in menthol cigarette preferences into large (tens of percent) ones. It has been proposed that menthol cigarettes, which are more addictive but not healthier, should be banned, partially on grounds that race-specific marketing for a more addictive product is a social injustice.
Despite it being illegal at the time, tobacco marketers gave out free menthol cigarette samples to children in black neighborhoods in the U.S. Similar practices continue in Subsaharan Africa, where a 2016 study found over 12% of South African students had been given free cigarettes by tobacco company representatives.
In addition to high use by African Americans, menthol cigarettes are used disproportionately by adolescents, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. LGBT Americans are twice as likely as straight ones to use menthol cigarettes, according to CDC research. Where these demographics overlap, menthol use is especially high: most female LGBT smokers use menthols, as do 80 percent of African American youth smokers and 70 percent of LGBT youth smokers. Tobacco companies have targeted the LGBT community with advertising for menthol cigarettes, most notably through Project SCUM.
There is evidence that banning menthol cigarettes helps menthol smokers to quit. Given that menthol is preferentially used by young smokers, it is expected that bans may reduce smoking initiation.
In March 2012, Brazil became the first country to outlaw flavored cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes.
On 21 June 2013, EU health ministers agreed on a directive to ban menthol cigarettes (technically "dual flavour cigarettes"); this decision might be implemented within three-and-a-half years.c In response, the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt,(1918-2015), was reported to have hoarded 200 cartons of his preferred menthol cigarette brand in his house.
The directive is adopted in UK law, so will be effective there unless amending legislation is brought in.
Although the use of menthol in ointments and cough drops is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States of America, regulation of cigarettes was removed from their purview in 2000 by the Supreme Court in a 5–4 ruling, FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. In October 2009, the United States Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products and ban flavor additives, although the act contained an exception for menthol.
On March 18, 2011, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (an advisory panel to the FDA) concluded that removing menthol cigarettes from the market would benefit public health in the United States, but stopped short of recommending that the Food and Drug Administration take any specific actions, like restricting or banning the additive. In response, the tobacco industry released a report to the FDA changed focus subject by claiming menthol cigarettes are no riskier than regular cigarettes and should not be regulated differently.
A progress report on panel findings was expected from the FDA in July 2011.
In November 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to outlaw menthol cigarettes, later changing this position to advocate for restriction of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes to a separate age-restricted room. The FDA stated that this change in position was due to their belief that they do not have the legal regulatory authority to unilaterally declare a ban, citing concerns that any such ban would result in litigation that the FDA would lose.
Opposition to proposed ban
Several black advocacy groups have voiced opposition to a proposed ban on menthol in cigarettes. The Congress of Racial Equality, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the National Black Police Association have urged the FDA to reject a ban on mentholated cigarettes due to concerns that banning mentholated cigarettes could spur an illicit market for the outlawed products in minority communities.
The doctors' group African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council supports the ban.
Groups representing law enforcement officers also oppose the ban. The Law Enforcement Alliance of America and the National Troopers Coalition have urged the FDA to consider the impact a ban on menthol cigarettes would have on tobacco smuggling.
The proposed menthol ban also saw opposition from organized labor. In December 2010, workers from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union protested outside a meeting between FDA officials and industry representatives in Raleigh, North Carolina, arguing that a menthol ban would cost many workers their jobs.
Menthol cigarettes are not healthier than other cigarettes. The risk of lung cancer is no different for menthol cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes. Some studies have even suggested that they are more addictive.
Young people who use menthol cigarettes are also thought to be 80% more likely to become life-long smokers than those who use regular cigarettes.
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- FTC Cigarette Report for 2002
- FDA Milestones
- Menthol vs. Nonmenthol Cigarettes: Effects on Smoking Behavior
- Menthol Cigarette Smoking in African Americans and whites
- Menthol Cigarette Brands made in Europe
- Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes Food and Drug Administration
- UCSF Tobacco Industry Videos Collection