Objective: In 2002, the First Conference on Menthol Cigarettes brought together researchers from diverse backgrounds to summarize what is known about menthol cigarettes and the people who smoke them, and to identify areas of needed research on menthol cigarettes. Since the conference, PubMed reports 24 articles, including the conference proceedings, on menthol cigarettes and African Americans. Many of the articles address epidemiological or biomedical topics. While there has been some focus on social influences and marketing issues, more research and a greater focus on this topic are needed.
Design: To stimulate research on a population disproportionately burdened by the health effects of smoking, we conducted small-group discussions in 2005 with adult African American smokers in Atlanta, Georgia. Each group discussion focused on a different topic: smoking behavior and preferences, perceptions of social influences, health effects and perceived harmfulness of menthol, quitting menthol cigarette smoking, or the influence of marketing and advertising of menthol cigarettes.
Results: Themes emerged from the discussions: (1) emulation of black culture by white youth and racial integration of neighborhoods and communities may have modified the perception that African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes and whites smoke non-menthol cigarettes; (2) non-menthol cigarette smokers were thought to be 'hardcore' smokers with less interest in quitting; (3) switching to non-menthol cigarettes was discussed as a way of quitting cigarettes for habitual menthol smokers; and, (4) smoking menthol cigarettes was thought to lead to fewer negative health effects.
Conclusion: Some topics suggested by the participants warrant further investigation. More research is needed to assess the pervasiveness of these beliefs and their potential utility for smoking cessation interventions.