In conformity with the latest annual report presented by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the rate of adolescent and adult smokers who switch to menthol cigarettes is currently on a rise. Many public health groups said they have been highly concerned by the growing figures, because menthol flavoring is the only additive not included in the federal ban on flavored cigarettes, which came into force last year.
According to the report, menthol category constitutes almost 25 percent of the $70 billion-per-year tobacco market in the U.S. The leading position in menthol cigarette market belongs to Lorillard Inc. maker of Newport, number one menthol cig, ahead of Philip Morris USA and Reynolds American.
Scientists say that tobacco companies add menthol flavoring to mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make the smoke to be cooler and long-lasting; however, this flavoring entices smokers to light up more cigarettes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering the impact of menthol flavor on smokers and could include menthol in the ban on flavorings.
The SAMHSA report shows that the number of smokers who prefer menthol cigarette in teenage group (12 -18 years) went up from 44% reported in 2004 to 48% in 2008. In addition, among the younger adults group (18-25 years) the rate of menthol smokers grew from 34% in 2004 up to 41% in 2008. Although the report doesn’t reveal overall number of menthol-lovers, it concludes that each year over 4 billion packs of menthol smokes are sold across the country.
William Loftis, SAMHSA senior director, stated that he has been highly concerned with the significant appeal that menthol flavoring has on younger smokers, because menthol makes smoking easier and thus, can tempt many adolescents into taking up smoking and become addicted to that hazardous habit.
Lorillard spokesperson said the company has provided the FDA with all the available information to prove that smokers of both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes are able to give up their habit equally and said that claims that menthol lures smokers to light up more cigarettes have no scientific prove.
In 2009 the U.S. Congress adopted the legislation, empowering the FDA with the authority to control tobacco industry. Among the first provisions of the landmark Tobacco Control Act was the ban on the overwhelming majority of flavorings in cigarettes. Nevertheless, menthol flavoring was not covered by the regulation, due to several factors, including economic factor, and possible growth of black market.
Many groups advocating for the African American population urged the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes, because mentholated cigarettes are smoked by the majority of African American smokers.
Reports show that nearly 78 percent of African American cigarette-lovers prefer menthol cigs, in contrast to only 20 percent among White Americans. The communications manager for the FDA stated the agency would take appropriate action after examining the material regarding the effect of menthol cigarettes on public health.
The SAMHSA report was drawn up on the basis of a survey of over 350,000 people throughout the U.S. The respondents were asked whether they smoked during the last 30 days and if so, what tobacco products they used.