Study shows how tobacco industry hooks new smokers


Washington : The tobacco industry has been promoting menthol cigarette brands among adolescents with younger, newer smokers making up the highest segment, according to a new study.

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Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found a deliberate strategy to recruit and addict young smokers by adjusting menthol to create a milder experience.

Menthol masks the harshness or irritation of tobacco, while allowing nicotine, the addictive chemical, to pass on to smokers. These milder products were then marketed to the youngest potential consumers.

“For decades, the tobacco industry has carefully manipulated menthol content not only to lure youth but also to lock in lifelong adult customers,” said Howard Koh, professor and associate dean at HSPH and the paper’s co-author.

Koh and co-author Jennifer M. Kreslake reviewed tobacco industry documents on menthol product development, conducted lab tests to measure its content in US brands and drew data from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Industry documents revealed that tobacco companies researched how controlling menthol levels could increase brand sales among specific groups.

The companies determined that products with higher menthol levels and stronger perceived menthol sensation suited long-term smokers of menthol cigarettes while milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers.

For example, Marlboro introduced Marlboro Milds in 2000, with a lower menthol concentration while raising the menthol content in Marlboro Menthol, favoured by older smokers.

The 2006 national survey showed that a significantly greater proportion of adolescent and young adult smokers used menthol brands compared to older smokers.

In 2006, 43.8 percent of current smokers aged 12 to 17 years reported that they used menthol cigarettes as did 35.6 percent of current smokers aged 18 to 24 years. By contrast, 30.6 percent of smokers older than 35 years reported menthol use.

“This is another example of the cynical behaviour of the tobacco industry to hook teens and African Americans to a deadly addiction,” said Gregory N. Connolly, also a co-author of the paper.

The findings of the study have been published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Public Health.