The menthol smoker: tobacco industry research on consumer sensory perception of menthol cigarettes and its role in smoking behavior

Nicotine Tob Res. 2008 Apr;10(4):705-15. doi: 10.1080/14622200801979134.


The use of menthol in cigarettes is actively promoted by the tobacco industry for its perceived sensory benefits, and smokers of menthol cigarettes commonly differ from nonmenthol smokers in markers of smoking behavior and addiction. In this study, we analyzed internal tobacco industry documents to describe the relationships between sensory perception and the attitudes, preferences, and patterns of cigarette use among menthol smokers. Two unique types of menthol smoker emerged from this analysis: those who cannot tolerate the harshness and irritation associated with smoking nonmenthol cigarettes, and those who seek out the specific menthol flavor and associated physical sensation. Among the first segment of menthol smokers, menthol reduces negative sensory characteristics associated with smoking. This segment of smokers may include a large proportion of occasional smokers or young people, as well as smokers who have "traded down" to a less strong cigarette because of perceived harshness or negative health effects. Some established menthol smokers, on the other hand, appear to be tolerant of and even actively seek stronger sensory attributes, including higher menthol levels. Smokers of these "stronger" menthols have traditionally been disproportionately Black and male. Some beginning or occasional smokers may adopt menthols for their mild properties and to cover up the taste of tobacco, but then develop a stronger desire for the menthol taste over time. Future research measuring smoking behavior and evaluating cessation outcomes of menthol smokers should consider the duration of menthol use and differentiate smokers according to their reasons for using menthols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Behavior, Addictive / epidemiology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / ethnology
  • Consumer Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Documentation
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Flavoring Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Menthol / administration & dosage*
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / ethnology
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tobacco Industry*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / ethnology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Menthol