255686 Get ‘em when they're young, keep ‘em when they're old: Menthol's role in initiating and sustaining tobacco use

Monday, October 29, 2012 : 2:50 PM - 3:10 PM

Stacey Anderson, PhD , Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
INTRODUCTION: The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, gave the US Food and Drug Administration authority to ban flavoring additives to tobacco products known to attract new tobacco users and mislead consumers about the relative “safety” of flavored products. Menthol was excluded from the list of banned flavoring additives.

OBJECTIVE: To explore the tobacco industry's interest in menthol as a factor in youth smoking initiation and as a deterrent to quitting among older, established smokers.

METHODS: Analysis of internal tobacco industry documents and tobacco advertising archives.

RESULTS: Menthol's cooling and anesthetic effects mask the harshness of smoking among new initiates and mislead established smokers to think menthol poses less health risk. The tobacco industry actively marketed menthol to communicate these messages to young and old targets. The tobacco industry knew menthol's sensory characteristics were cosmetic rather than protective of health, but promoted menthol to suggest the personal benefits and social desirability of mentholated tobacco.

CONCLUSIONS: Menthol eases smoking initiation in young experimenters and masks unpleasant tobacco flavors that may otherwise deter progression to regular use. Older, established smokers believe menthol provides health protections and makes secondhand smoke more socially acceptable, reducing the perceived need to quit. Including menthol on the list of banned tobacco flavor additives is likely to discourage youth initiation and progression to regular tobacco use, and to remove the cosmetic reasons for established smokers to delay quitting, resulting in public health improvement for all ages.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Learning Objectives At the end of the session, participants will be able to: 1) describe the sensory properties of menthol that appeal to different age groups and to people with varying degrees of experience with tobacco; 2) identify why the tobacco industry viewed menthol as a tobacco products additive important for gaining and keeping customers across the lifespan, and how the industry markets mentholated products to these customers; 3) discuss the public health benefits of including menthol on the US Food and Drug Administration’s list of banned tobacco product additives and flavorings.

Keywords: Public Health Policy, Tobacco Control

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have nine years of experience analyzing internal tobacco industry documents, particularly with respect to the tobacco industry's strategies for targeting vulnerable populations such as women, low income people, health-concerned smokers, and young people. My work on tobacco industry marketing strategies has been published internationally in peer-reviewed academic journals. I am the sole author of the study presented here.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.