Smokers of Menthol Cigarettes May Have Harder Time Quitting

By Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services | September 26, 2006

Although menthol and non-menthol cigarettes appear to be equally harmful to the lungs and cardiovascular system, menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit, according to a UCSF-led study that tracked more than 1,200 smokers over 15 years. The study found that menthol smokers were almost twice as likely to relapse after quitting and also were less likely to stop for a substantial period of time.

Several physiological effects may underlie the difficulty in giving up menthol cigarettes, the authors report. Menthol's cooling and local anesthetic effect may enhance smoking pleasure. But perhaps more importantly, it also increases breath-holding and decreases nicotine metabolism, thereby increasing levels of addictive nicotine in the blood.

Other studies have found that African Americans tend to smoke less than European Americans, yet have disproportionately high rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other smoking-related illnesses. About 70 percent of African American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, compared to only about 30 percent of European American smokers. But the new study found that menthol cigarettes don't appear to explain the cancer and heart disease disparities.


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