Background: Approximately one-fourth of all cigarettes sold in the United States have the descriptor "menthol" on the cigarette pack. It is important to determine what socio-demographic factors are associated with smoking menthol cigarettes if indeed these types of cigarettes are related to smoking initiation, higher exposure to smoke constituents, nicotine dependence, or reduced smoking cessation.
Methods: The National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducted a review of the scientific literature on this topic which we completed by adding more recently published articles via PubMed. We also conducted further data analyses using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the Monitoring the Future Survey, and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to provide up-to-date information on this topic.
Results: Menthol cigarettes are disproportionately smoked by adolescents, blacks/African Americans, adult females, those living in the Northeast of the United States and those with family incomes lower than $50,000. Based on self-reports of menthol cigarette use, menthol cigarette use among smokers have increased from 2004 to 2008. However, no increase was observed during these years for predominantly menthol brands like Newport™, Kool,™ and Salem™, however, this lack of significant trend may be due, at least in part, due to smaller numbers of smokers of specific brands or sub-brands, which provide estimates which are less precise.
Conclusion: Menthol cigarettes are disproportionately smoked by groups of U.S. cigarette smokers. It is likely that other disparities in menthol cigarette use exist that we have not covered or have not been studied yet.