Menthol Tobacco Products Are a Public Health Problem

At a glance

Menthol cigarettes—including how and to whom they are marketed and sold—are a significant risk to public health and efforts to advance health equity. They increase smoking initiation and dependence, make it harder for people to quit, and contribute to health disparities. Free resources, like quitlines and websites, can help you quit smoking for good.

A threat to efforts to advance health equity

The tobacco industry markets menthol products to certain populations

The tobacco industry targets menthol cigarette marketing to certain populations through advertisements, giveaways, lower prices, lifestyle branding, and event sponsorships. For example, tobacco companies have heavily marketed in Black-owned publications through the following12345:

  • Sponsorship of jazz concerts and certain civil rights groups,
  • Advertisements showing people dressed in clothing popular with rap and hip-hop artists, and
  • Neighborhoods with more Black residents.

These aggressive marketing tactics likely have contributed to some groups of people having higher rates of use than others. Given how menthol interacts with nicotine, people who smoke menthol cigarettes are also more likely to continue smoking, which puts them at higher risk of getting tobacco-related diseases.167

The tobacco industry uses similar strategies to market menthol cigars. For example, tobacco companies have published ads in newspapers with a large proportion of Black readers. More recently, they have advertised menthol cigars on social media and used hip-hop and rap artists, models, and music that appeal to young people.28

Did you know?

From 1980 to 2018, an estimated 10.1 million people started smoking in the United States because of menthol cigarettes. An estimated 378,000 people died prematurely.9

Menthol cigarettes resulted in an estimated total of 3 million years of potential life lost during this 38-year period.9

State Menthol Fact Sheets‎

Find 50 states and the District of Columbia fact sheets which present data on state-specific estimates about menthol tobacco product use and more.

Menthol cigarettes put your health at risk just as much as any other type of cigarette

No tobacco product is safe, including those with menthol. Despite this, tobacco companies market menthol cigarettes as "smoother" than other cigarettes. Their marketing messages imply that menthol cigarettes are a "healthier" alternative.7

Menthol increases initiation and dependence in adolescents and young adults

Menthol makes cigarettes more appealing and easier to smoke.10 In addition, menthol enhances the addictive effects of nicotine in the brain.10 The amount of nicotine (the addictive drug in tobacco products) in menthol cigarettes has increased in recent years.11

Menthol in cigarettes makes it more likely that adolsecents and young adults will try smoking and that those who start smoking will continue to smoke on a regular basis.10

Tobacco companies have conducted extensive research on menthol. They adjust the amounts of menthol in cigarette brands to make each brand most appealing to the people they target. For example, the companies lowered the amount of menthol in some brands to make them more appealing to young people who smoke and those just starting to smoke. The companies increased the amount of menthol in other brands to make them more appealing to older people.12

Menthol in other tobacco products can also lead to continued use of those products. For example, youth and young adults whose first cigar was flavored with mint or menthol were 72% more likely to use cigars a year or more later compared to youth and young adults who reported their first cigar was not flavored.13

Menthol can make quitting smoking more difficult

People who smoke menthol cigarettes can be less likely to successfully quit than people who smoke nonmenthol cigarettes. For example, young adults and adults who smoke menthol cigarettes make more attempts to quit smoking than those who smoke nonmenthol cigarettes.

However, more people tried and succeeded in quitting nonmenthol cigarettes than menthol cigarettes.14 This could be partly due to the way in which menthol enhances the addictive effects of nicotine in the brain.10

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  1. Gardiner P, Clark PI. Menthol cigarettes: moving toward a broader definition of harm. Nicotine Tob Res. 2010;12(Suppl 2):S85–S93.
  2. Cruz TB, Rose SW, Lienemann BA, et al. Pro-tobacco marketing and anti-tobacco campaigns aimed at vulnerable populations: a review of the literature. Tob Induc Dis. 2019;17:68.
  3. Lee JG, Henriksen L, Rose SW, Moreland-Russell S, Ribisl KM. A systematic review of neighborhood disparities in point-of-sale tobacco marketing. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(9):e8–e18.
  4. Yerger VB, Przewoznik J, Malone RE. Racialized geography, corporate activity, and health disparities: tobacco industry targeting of inner cities. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2007;18(4 Suppl):10–38.
  5. Cruz TB, Wright LT, Crawford G. The menthol marketing mix: targeted promotions for focus communities in the United States. Nicotine Tob Res. 2010;12(Suppl 2):S147–S153.
  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Menthol Cigarettes and Public Health: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services; 2011. Accessed November 2, 2023.
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes. U.S. Dept of Human Health and Services; 2013. Accessed November 2, 2023.
  8. Kostygina G, Glantz SA, Ling PM. Tobacco industry use of flavours to recruit new users of little cigars and cigarillos. Tob Control. 2016;25(1):66–74.
  9. Le TTT, Mendez D. An estimation of the harm of menthol cigarettes in the United States from 1980 to 2018. Tob Control. 2022;31:564–568.
  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Scientific Review of the Effects of Menthol in Cigarettes on Tobacco Addiction: 19802021. U.S. Dept of Human Health and Services; 2022. Accessed November 2, 2023.
  11. Kuiper N, Coats EM, Crawford TN, et al. Trends in manufacturer-reported nicotine yields in cigarettes sold in the United States, 2013–2016. Prev Chronic Dis. 2020;17:E148.
  12. Kreslake JM, Wayne GF, Alpert HR, Koh HK, Connolly GN. Tobacco industry control of menthol in cigarettes and targeting of adolescents and young adults. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(9):1685–1692.
  13. Villanti, AC, Johnson AL, Halenar MJ, et al. Menthol and mint cigarettes and cigars: initiation and progression in youth, young adults and adults in waves 1–4 of the PATH study, 2013–2017. Nicotine Tob Res. 2021;23(8):1318–1326.
  14. Levy DT, Blackman K, Tauras J, et al. Quit attempts and quit rates among menthol and nonmenthol smokers in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(7):1241–1247.