Are Menthol Cigarettes More Harmful Than Regular Ones?


May 25, 2020


Image Credit: Getty Images

Last week, the UK banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, menthol filters and papers, and skinny cigarettes, in an effort to stop young people from smoking. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said menthol cigarettes are more harmful than other cigarettes, but their sale continues in the US as well as in India.

How are menthol cigarettes different?

Menthol cigarettes have a similar design to regular cigarettes, but use menthol additives either mixed with the tobacco or within/near the cigarette filter to release a burst of menthol flavor when inhaled.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half the smokers (54%) between the ages 12 to 17 prefer menthol cigarettes. Further, a majority of those who start smoking as young adults start with menthol cigarettes.

Why is it easier to get addicted to menthol cigarettes?

Menthol masks the harshness of the cigarette, which makes smoking them more pleasurable and an easy choice for beginners. In addition, they are also easier to get addicted to because their cooling effect decreases the cough reflex, and can soothe the throat dryness that many smokers usually experience.

Why are menthol cigarettes more harmful than non-menthol ones?

Because of the masking effect of menthol, people end up inhaling smoke from menthol cigarettes more deeply. People also tend to hold the smoke longer in their lungs due to its cooling properties. That’s one reason that menthol smokers’ lungs end up being more exposed to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, one study found.

Smoking menthol cigarettes also results in slower nicotine metabolism and clearance — the time it takes for the body to break nicotine into cotinine to be cleared from the system. The presence of high levels of nicotine in the body poses a risk of increased blood pressure and heart rate and, in some cases, might also contribute to the hardening of the arterial walls, leading to a heart attack.

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Over time, these the compounded negative effect on menthol smokers’ health, as compared to non-menthol smokers, is clear. In a 2014 study, smokers using menthol cigarettes ended up with more visits to the emergency room along with more hospitalizations for conditions such as difficulty breathing or an increase in phlegm that lasts for days. “[M]enthol smokers, compared to non-menthol cigarette smokers, reported more severe exacerbations and greater odds of experiencing severe exacerbations,” said Dr. Marilyn Foreman of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the study’s authors. Additionally, menthol smokers also performed worse in a test studying the amount of walking distance they could cover in six minutes. They also ran short of breath faster than those who smoked regular cigarettes. Overall, the researchers noted that there was a 29% higher risk of severe lung disease resulting from the use of menthol cigarettes.



Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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