Menthol and non-menthol cigarettes appear to be equally harmful to the arteries and to lung function, but smokers of menthols may be less likely to attempt or succeed at quitting, according to a report in the September 25 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Cigarette smoking causes about 440,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to background information in the article. African Americans tend to smoke less than European Americans, but have disproportionately high rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other smoking-related illnesses. "For a variety of historical and cultural reasons, including targeted advertising by the tobacco industry, African American smokers are much more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than European American smokers (approximately 70 percent vs. 30 percent)," the authors write. Menthol is a mint-flavored compound derived from peppermint oil that could potentially increase the harm caused by cigarettes through a variety of biological mechanisms. "If menthol cigarettes were more harmful than non-menthol cigarettes, the higher exposure to menthol cigarette smoke among African American smokers could help explain racial/ethnic disparities in disease rates."
Mark J. Pletcher, M.D., M.P.H., University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues examined this hypothesis in 1,535 smokers who were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. The researchers measured the association between exposure to menthol cigarettes and smoking cessation (quitting); coronary calcification, or a build-up of calcium in the arteries leading to the heart that is a sign of coronary artery disease; and change in pulmonary (lung) function over a 10-year period. Participants were women and men age 18 to 30 at the beginning of the study, in 1985. Each underwent a medical examination and answered questions about demographics and smoking habits in 1985 a
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