Menthol Tobacco Products
Menthol is a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and other similar plants. Menthol can also be produced in a lab.1
Menthol can change the way the brain registers the sensations of taste and pain.2 In cigarettes, menthol creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways, making the smoke feel less harsh and easier to inhale.3 Menthol is also used in other commercial tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, smokeless tobacco, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products.
According to federal law, tobacco manufacturers cannot market cigarettes with “characterizing flavors,” except for menthol- or tobacco-flavored cigarettes.4 Almost all the cigarettes sold in the United States contain some natural or lab-created menthol. However, there is usually more menthol in cigarettes marketed specifically as “menthol” compared to other cigarettes.5 In 2019 and in 2020, sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes made up 37% of all cigarette sales in the U.S.—the highest proportion since major tobacco companies were first required to report those data to the federal government in 1967.6,7
- Tobacco companies add menthol to commercial tobacco products to make them seem less harsh and more appealing to young people and to people who have never used tobacco products.
- Nicotine is the addictive drug in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on the brain and can make tobacco products even more addictive. In recent years, tobacco companies also have increased the amount of nicotine in some menthol cigarettes.
- Menthol in cigarettes can make it more difficult to quit smoking. People who smoke menthol cigarettes can be less likely to successfully quit than people who smoke non-menthol cigarettes.
- Tobacco companies aggressively market menthol-flavored tobacco products to different groups of people, especially Black people. This marketing contributes to targeted population groups being more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than other population groups.
- Young people, racial and ethnic minority groups, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with a low income, and people with mental health conditions also are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than other population groups.
- We can help reduce menthol tobacco use and help people quit using tobacco products by:
- Increasing equitable access to evidence-based quitting resources, including counseling and medication.
- Implementing policies that prohibit or decrease sales of menthol tobacco products.
- Kamatou GP, Vermaak I, Viljoen AM, Lawrence BM. Menthol: a simple monoterpene with remarkable biological properties. Phytochemistry. 2013;96:15-25. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2013.08.005.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. 2014.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Scientific Review of the Effects of Menthol in Cigarettes on Tobacco Addiction: 1980-2021. 2022.
- Tobacco Product Standards. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. 21 U.S.C. § 387g. 2010 [accessed 2022 May 9].
- Ai J, Taylor KM, Lisko JG, Tran H, Watson CH, Holman MR. Menthol Content in US Marketed Cigarettes. Nicotine Tob Res. 2016;18(7):1575-1580. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntv162.
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission. U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Cigarette Report for 2019, 2020. Washington: Federal Trade Commission, 2020 [accessed 2022 May 9].
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission. U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Cigarette Report for 2020, 2021. Washington: Federal Trade Commission, 2021 [accessed 2022 May 9].