Introduction: Menthol cigarettes were historically marketed as "healthier" cigarettes, and menthol possesses cooling qualities that may reduce the perceived harshness of cigarette smoke. As such, it is possible that smokers may perceive menthol cigarettes to be safer when, in fact, some research suggests that menthols may be more addictive than regular cigarettes. Research shows that smokers have a faulty understanding of the risks of cigarettes in general, but little is known about smokers' risk perceptions for these particular products.
Methods: We examined data from the 2005 New Jersey Adult Tobacco Survey, a statewide random-digit-dial telephone survey monitoring tobacco-use behavior, knowledge, and attitudes and which asked participants to compare how risky (somewhat less risky, about the same, or somewhat more risky) menthol cigarettes were with nonmenthol cigarettes.
Results: Few menthol smokers (2.4%) and survey respondents overall (4.0%) believed menthol cigarettes to be less risky than nonmenthol cigarettes. In contrast, 30.2% of menthol smokers and 25.9% of all respondents (including nonsmokers) believed menthols to be more risky than nonmenthol cigarettes. Compared with never-smokers, nonmenthol smokers were most likely to believe this (AOR = 4.51), followed by former smokers (AOR = 1.77) and current menthol smokers (AOR = 1.58). Among current smokers, Blacks (AOR = 2.17) were more likely than Whites to indicate menthols as being more risky and young adults (18- to 24-year-olds) were the age group most likely to hold this belief (AOR = 3.30).
Conclusions: Future research should explore whether these perceptions exist in broader population groups as well as their development and association with smoking-related behaviors.