Menthol is a chemical naturally found in peppermint and other mint plants, but it can also be made in a lab. In the 1920s and 1930s, menthol was first added to tobacco in an effort to soften the harshness of cigarette smoke and the sting of nicotine. The Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over tobacco products according to the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Prior to that law, menthol was the only flavour allowed in cigarettes at levels high enough to be considered a “characterising taste.” Tobacco corporations have long used menthol’s calming and cooling properties to market their products to new smokers, young people, African Americans, and transgender and queer people. For decades, African-Americans have been specifically marketed to in an effort to convince them to switch to menthol cigarettes.

There are more than 18.9 million regular cigarette smokers in the world today, and many of them like menthol varieties.

One of the main draws of tobacco products for young people is the presence of flavourings like menthol.

The Implications of Menthol on Health
Smokers may get a false sense of improved lung function after inhaling menthol because it soothes irritated airways, prevents coughing, and masks the taste of cigarette smoke. Although certain advertisements may make it appear otherwise, there is no difference in healthfulness between menthol and regular cigarettes. 2 The minty flavour and aroma can actually disguise the warning signs of developing respiratory difficulties due to smoking. 3

It has also been shown that menthol cigarettes increase the propensity for and intensity of addiction.

Although menthol smokers report a stronger desire to quit than non-menthol smokers, research shows that they have a lower chance of really succeeding in their attempt to kick the habit.

A recent study attempted to put a number on the disproportionate effects of menthol cigarettes on African Americans, and it found that between 1980 and 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 1.5 million new smokers, 157,000 smoking-related premature deaths, and 1.5 million lost life years

Disproportionately Impacted Populations

Since the 1950s, the tobacco industry has intentionally marketed menthol cigarettes to members of certain racial and ethnic groups, primarily Black Americans.
6 Furthermore, the business has heavily promoted menthol cigarettes to the LGBTQ population.

More than 8 in 10 of Black Americans who smoke use menthol cigar tee

About 48% of Hispanic individuals who smoke use menthol cigarettes.
About 48% of Hispanic individuals who smoke use menthol cigarettes.
About 41% of Asian individuals who smoke prefer menthol cigarettes.

About half of youth smokers ages 12-17 smoke menthols. When compared to the roughly 40% of adults over the age of 18 who like menthols, that figure is significantly higher.

The percentage of people who smoke menthol cigarettes is higher among LGB people (49%) than it is among heterosexuals (40%) overall.

Check out this short film called Black Lives, Black Lungs to learn more about how the tobacco business has infiltrated the African American community.