Background: In the United States, cigarette flavorings are banned, with the exception of menthol. The cooling effects of menthol could facilitate the absorption of tobacco toxicants. We examined levels of biomarkers of tobacco exposure among U.S. smokers of menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes.
Methods: We studied 4,603 White, African-American, and Mexican-American current smokers 20 years of age or older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 through 2010 and had data on cigarette type and serum cotinine, blood cadmium, and blood lead concentrations. Urinary total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol) (NNAL) was studied in 1,607 participants with available measures.
Results: A total of 3,210 (74.3%) participants smoked nonmenthol cigarettes compared with 1,393 (25.7%) participants who smoked menthol cigarettes. The geometric mean concentrations comparing smokers of nonmenthol with menthol cigarettes were 163.1 versus 175.9 ng/mL for serum cotinine; 0.95 versus 1.02 μg/L for blood cadmium; 1.87 versus 1.75 μg/dL for blood lead; and 0.27 versus 0.23 ng/mL for urine NNAL. After multivariable adjustment, the ratios [95% confidence interval (CI)] comparing smokers of menthol with nonmenthol cigarettes were 1.03 (0.95-1.11) for cotinine, 1.10 (1.04-1.16) for cadmium, 0.95 (0.90-1.01) for lead, and 0.81 (0.65-1.01) for NNAL.
Conclusions: In a representative sample of U.S. adult smokers, current menthol cigarette use was associated with increased concentration of blood cadmium, an established carcinogen and highly toxic metal, but not with other biomarkers.
Impact: These findings provide information regarding possible differences in exposure to toxic constituents among menthol cigarette smokers compared with nonmenthol cigarette smokers.