Contrary to the conventional wisdom, mentholated cigarette smokers are less likely to develop and then die from lung cancer than those who smoke nonmentholated cigarettes.
Nearly 86,000 people from 12 southern states were enrolled into the multiracial Southern Community Cohort Study. Because blacks—who smoke mentholated cigarettes more than whites—have higher lung cancer rates than whites, many assumed that menthol was the reason for the increase in lung cancer rates among blacks. Menthol is a crystalline alcohol that occurs in mint oils and causes a cooling effect. Some studies had previously indicated that menthol affects the lung’s biology or that mentholated cigarettes compel smokers to inhale the smoke more deeply into the lungs. As a result, many thought that adding menthol to cigarettes would make quitting smoking even more difficult.
The Southern Community Cohort Study led by William J. Blot, PhD, of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee compared 440 patients with lung cancer with 2213 matched controls who had the same demographics but no lung cancer.
Blot and colleagues determined that mentholated cigarettes were associated with a statistically significant lower incidence of lung cancer than regular cigarettes. In those smoking ≥20 cigarettes per day, smokers of nonmentholated cigarettes were 21 times more likely to have lung cancer whereas smokers of mentholated cigarettes were 12 times as likely to have the disease.
Interestingly, the study found that mentholated cigarette smokers—both black and white—reported smoking fewer cigarettes per day than nonmentholated cigarette smokers.
The study did not determine, however, why blacks have a higher incidence of lung cancer than whites.
Source: Blot WJ, International Epidemiology Institute, et al. Lung cancer study finds mentholated cigarettes no more harmful than regular cigarettes. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011:doi:10.1093/jnci/djr126.