Menthol pharmacology and its potential impact on cigarette smoking behavior

Nicotine Tob Res. 2004 Feb;6 Suppl 1:S17-28. doi: 10.1080/14622200310001649469.


Menthol is the only tobacco additive promoted and advertised by the tobacco industry. Although a considerable body of research has examined the effects of menthol when it is administered alone and unburned, the effects of menthol when burned in cigarette smoke are more complex because it is administered in a matrix of more than 4,000 substances. Therefore, it is difficult to isolate potential pharmacological and toxic effects of menthol when it is administered in a smoke mixture. Menthol properties include cooling and local anesthesia, as well as effects on drug absorption and metabolism, bronchodilation and respiration changes, and electrophysiology. Subjective effects of smoothness and less harshness have been identified as reasons for menthol cigarette smoking, but findings have been inconclusive regarding the effect of menthol on carbon monoxide exposure and smoking topography parameters. Gaps in the research literature and future research areas include the following: (a) What is the role of menthol in tobacco reinforcement and addiction? (b) In the absence of nicotine, is menthol reinforcing? (c) Are the pharmacological and physiological effects of menthol mediated by a menthol-specific receptor or some other central nervous system-mediated action? (d) What are the influences of menthol and menthol metabolism on the metabolic activation and detoxification of carcinogens in tobacco smoke? and (e) Do differences exist in cigarette smoking topography in relation to the interaction of ethnicity, gender, and menthol cigarette preference? Answers to these questions will help to elucidate the function of menthol in cigarettes and its impact on smoking behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Calcium Channels / drug effects
  • Choice Behavior / drug effects*
  • Edetic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Menthol / adverse effects
  • Menthol / pharmacokinetics
  • Menthol / pharmacology*
  • Nicotine / pharmacokinetics
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology*


  • Calcium Channels
  • Menthol
  • Nicotine
  • Edetic Acid