Introduction: Perceptions of menthol cigarette use may have implications for smoking initiation and cessation. This study explores harm and health perceptions of menthol cigarette use among a national sample of U.S. adults and current smokers.
Methods: We examined data from the 2009 HealthStyles survey (n = 4,556), an annual mail survey of adults ≥18 years of age that collects information on attitudes and behaviors, including smoking. Frequencies and weighted percentages were calculated by sex, race/ethnicity, age, education level, household income, and smoking status. Unadjusted odds ratios (OR) were used to compare perceptions of menthol cigarette use between demographic groups.
Results: Close to half of adults (45.8%) believed that menthol cigarettes are just as harmful as nonmenthol cigarettes, and 40.9% of adults did not know whether menthol cigarettes are more or less harmful than nonmenthol cigarettes. Few adults (0.6%), including smokers, perceived menthol cigarettes to be less harmful than nonmenthol cigarettes. Blacks (OR = 3.22, 95% CI = 1.80-5.76) were more likely to believe that menthol cigarettes have health benefits when compared with Whites. Almost half of current smokers believed menthol cigarettes are equally addictive as nonmenthol cigarettes and 74.9% believed menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes are equally hard to quit.
Conclusions: Findings suggest directions for targeted public health messages for menthol cigarette use. Future research is needed among a nationally representative sample to capture more subtle differences in perceptions among menthol and nonmenthol smokers.