Menthol Worsens Smoking Addiction, Increases Nicotine Exposure, Study Finds

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Menthol flavored cigarettes are displayed in a store in New York March 30, 2010. A U.S. scientific panel this month will weigh the controversial role of popular menthol flavoring in cigarettes in the first public meeting on tobacco products since a new law granted regulators power over the industry last year. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Though menthol cigarettes are assumed to be lighter, it increase nicotine exposure and worsen smoking addictions, a new study finds. The study was conducted by researchers from Duke University and the University of Connecticut.

Researchers used mice for this study, which was conducted across nine years. They found that menthol appears to suppress smoke-induced irritation, makings it easier to inhale smoke and increasing the dosage of nicotine. Due to the similarities in menthol's pharmacology in humans, the animal models suggest that beginning smokers likely prefer menthols since they feel less irritated. At the same time, these smokers are exposed to higher levels of nicotine and become addicted faster and more durably.

"Menthol may increase the numbers of smokers -- they get addicted quicker and have a harder time quitting. It's a tool to make people addicted," the study authors wrote in a press statement

Another study conducted in 2014 found that teenagers who smoke menthol cigarettes are likely to light up more than teens who smoke regular cigarettes.

In September, Buffalo University researchers reported a sharp increase in the number of menthol users among teenagers. The study authors were of the opinion that banning of menthol cigarettes could help curb the smoking rate among teenagers as they start the habit because menthol smoke is easier to inhale.

"This finding indicates that mentholated cigarettes are a 'starter product' for kids in part because menthol makes it easier to inhale for beginners," the researchers said in a press statement. "Simply stated, menthol sweetens the poison, making it easier to smoke. Young people often think menthol cigarettes are safer, in part because they feel less harsh."

Smoking continues to remain one of the biggest preventable causes of death, causing one in five deaths annually. This sums up to more than 440,000 deaths per year, and an estimated 49,000 of these smoking-related deaths are the result of second-hand smoke exposure.

In July 2014, the U.S Food and Drug Administration released the results of a study which revealed the dangers of menthol cigarettes versus their non-menthol counterpart. They found that menthol smokers are more dependent on nicotine and find it difficult to kick the habit because of the addictive cooling sensation in their mouth.

Findings of the current study were published online in the journal PLOS ONE. This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health of the United States and the United States Food and Drug Administration.

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