Background: African American smokers are more likely to experience tobacco-related morbidity and mortality than European American smokers, and higher rates of menthol cigarette smoking may contribute to these disparities.
Methods: We prospectively measured cumulative exposure to menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes and smoking cessation behavior (1985-2000), coronary calcification (2000), and 10-year change in pulmonary function (1985-1995) in African American and European American smokers recruited in 1985 for the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study.
Results: We identified 1535 smokers in 1985 (972 menthol and 563 nonmenthol); 89% of African Americans preferred menthol vs 29% of European Americans (P<.001). After adjustment for ethnicity, demographics, and social factors, we found nonsignificant trends in menthol smokers toward lower cessation (odds ratio [OR], 0.71; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.49-1.02; P = .06) and recent quit attempt (OR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.56-1.06; P = .11) rates and a significant increase in the risk of relapse (OR, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.17-3.05; P = .009). Per pack-year of exposure, however, we found no differences from menthol in tobacco-related coronary calcification (adjusted OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.01-1.60 for menthol cigarettes and 1.33; 95% CI, 1.06-1.68 for nonmenthol cigarettes per 10-pack-year increase; P = .75 for comparison) or 10-year pulmonary function decline (adjusted excess decline in forced expiratory volume in 1 second, 84 mL; 95% CI, 32-137 for menthol cigarettes and 80 mL; 95% CI, 30-129 for nonmenthol cigarettes, per 10-pack-year increase; P = .88 for comparison).
Conclusion: Menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes seem to be equally harmful per cigarette smoked in terms of atherosclerosis and pulmonary function decline, but menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit smoking.