Objectives: We examined whether tobacco manufacturers manipulate the menthol content of cigarettes in an effort to target adolescents and young adults.
Methods: We analyzed data from tobacco industry documents describing menthol product development, results of laboratory testing of US menthol brands, market research reports, and the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Results: The tobacco industry attracted new smokers by promoting cigarettes with lower menthol content, which were popular with adolescents and young adults, and provided cigarettes with higher menthol content to long-term smokers. Menthol cigarette sales remained stable from 2000 to 2005 in the United States, despite a 22% decline in overall packs sold.
Conclusions: Tobacco companies manipulate the sensory characteristics of cigarettes, including menthol content, thereby facilitating smoking initiation and nicotine dependence. Menthol brands that have used this strategy have been the most successful in attracting youth and young adult smokers and have grown in popularity.