Menthol Cigarettes and African-American Smokers
When the Food and Drug Administration outlawed flavored cigarettes in 2009, the regulatory broad did not include menthol cigarettes on their list. But well-established risk factors are documented which proves how menthol-flavored tobacco is responsible for 29 percent of smoke related deaths in African-Americans.
Several tobacco research institutions report that 70-92 percent of black Americans, who smoke, smoke menthol-flavored cigarettes.
Each year, cigarette smoking is directly or indirectly responsible for approximately 440,000 deaths in the United States. And according to an American Cancer Society 2011-2012 survey, blacks have a higher mortality rate from smoking cigarettes because of menthols addictive biochemical properties.
“There is a direct negative association between exposure to menthol cigarettes, smoking cessation, coronary calcification, calcium in the arteries and a change in pulmonary function,” writes Mark Pletcher, M.D., M.P.H., University of California, San Francisco, as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. Other scientists also report, that due to a variety of biological mechanisms, menthol cigarettes are more harmful then non-menthol cigarettes.
Jonathan Foulds, PhD., at Penn State College of Medicine and author of “Quitting Menthol Cigarettes is Harder” wrote about the effects of different cigarettes upon all types of smokers, he concluded that while all forms of cigarette smoking could have disastrous results upon the user. “Menthol facilitates increased nicotine intake,” he explained.
Menthol is a natural mint-flavored compound derived from peppermint oil that biochemically activates cold-sensitive neurons in the nervous system. The synthetic or mint flavor added to cigarettes could potentially increase the harm caused by cigarette smoking by masking the harshness of smoking. According to Foulds, menthol in cigarettes cools the upper airways, which inhibits the body’s rejection of nicotine delivery while increasing in vitro absorption of tobacco carcinogens from cigarette smoking.
Nicotine and Tobacco Research Institute studies have shown that menthol decreases the body’s knowledge about the higher levels of carbon monoxide, nicotine and cotinine ingested. “Menthol stimulates cold receptors, so it produces a cooling sensation,” Foulds said. He added, “Menthol in cigarettes makes the smoke less harsh, enabling these smokers to obtain a larger and more reinforcing nicotine hit.”
Nicotine imitates the action of a natural neurotransmitter called acetylcholine and binds to a particular type of acetylcholine receptor, known as the nicotinic receptor. The state of California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program found that menthol cigarettes were associated with higher baseline levels of nicotine receptors in the brain.
Following chronic nicotine non-menthol exposure, nicotine brain receptor increases its numbers and peaks after 20 hours. But menthol activated brain receptors peak every 2-3 hours. These receptors require 10 times more nicotine consumption than regular cigarettes. This is considered a major contribution to menthol nicotine’s additive properties because menthol increases retention time in the lungs, according to a University of Southern California School of Medicine Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center 1999 study.
“Menthol, by its effects as a sensory stimulant, enhances the addictiveness of tobacco,” said Neal Benowitz, M.D., at UC-San Francisco. Menthol increases permeability of nicotine to cell membranes according to his 2004 report. Tobacco’s influence upon the brains dopamine is similar to the effects of morphine, cocaine and heroin.
Epidemiologic conducted studies have concluded that this unforeseen addiction has caused African-American men to have a higher rate of death by lung cancer then Caucasian males. Almost 88 percent of black male smokers will die from tobacco compared to 67 percent of white male smokers.
According to the website MentholKillsYou, blacks may have begun smoking menthol cigarettes as an alternative to expensive medications. They report that the cigarette industry knew since 1944 about the toxic addictive effects of the 1926 invented menthol laced cigarettes. But cigarette executives intentionally misclassified mentholated cigarette brands as a cough suppressant because of menthol’s local anesthetic and cooling properties.
FDA officials are currently meeting to discuss adding flavored menthol cigarettes to their outlawed list. It has a tobacco products scientific advisory committee that will writ a report about the public health impact of menthol. However, according to the New York Times, a nonvoting seat on the committee is an executive from Lorillard Tobacco. Phillip Morris had the only opponent to cigarettes removed from the panel of cigarette executives, researchers and educators.