Doctor analyzes the high consumption of menthol cigarettes in young Latinos 3:44

(CNN) --

New research finds that banning menthol cigarettes is effective in getting people to quit smoking.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said banning menthol is a "top priority," but public health advocates have accused the Biden administration of dragging its feet and banning has gotten caught up in election-year politics even though research shows clear health benefits.

The new research, published this Wednesday in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, analyzed studies that examined the effects of bans in more than 170 locations in the United States, two states, several countries and the European Union.

The researchers conducted an in-depth search for English-language studies on tobacco use that were published through November 2022.

The combined results show that about a quarter of smokers of menthol tobacco products quit within one to two years of the substance being banned in cigarettes.

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They found that of menthol smokers who did not quit after the bans were implemented, about half switched to non-menthol cigarettes, 12% switched to other flavored tobacco products, and another quarter found a way to continue smoking. menthols.

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National bans appeared to be the most effective, studies showed. Smoking rates of menthol cigarettes were lowest in settings with national bans and highest when there were only local or state bans.

The tobacco industry argued that a nationwide ban could make it dangerous for menthol smokers who would seek out illegal cigarettes, leading to violent encounters with police. However, the research found no evidence that the bans created waves of people turning to the black market for menthol cigarettes.

"Contrary to the tobacco industry's claims, we did not see an increase in the use of illicit products," said study co-author Dr. Sarah Mills.

"This review provides compelling evidence that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should move forward with banning the sale of menthol cigarettes," said Mills, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the School of Public Health. Gillings.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Even if just a quarter of smokers of menthol products quit, the health of thousands of people could be improved.

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The problem with menthol cigarettes

Although the number of people smoking cigarettes in the United States fell to one of the lowest levels in history, the proportion of those who smoke menthol cigarettes was increasing, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the number of people quitting smoking among some demographic groups, including older people, has fallen.

A ban would be particularly helpful for the health of communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community, both of which have been the target of industry advertising for decades. A 2020 study showed that while 43% of all adult smokers smoked menthols, more than 83% of Black smokers did. And a CDC study found that while 29% of heterosexual people smoked menthols, 36% of LGBT smokers did.

Menthol-flavored cigarettes are particularly attractive to children, studies show, so a ban could also prevent new smokers from taking up smoking.

More than half of children who smoke choose menthol cigarettes, according to the CDC. Studies have found that children who smoked menthols were more likely to become regular smokers than occasional smokers.

Menthol itself is not addictive, but menthol cigarettes are more attractive to new smokers, studies show, because the flavoring masks the harsh taste and smell that can put off some new smokers. Menthol also anesthetizes the throat, making it easier to deeply inhale the dangerous smoke.

"When added to cigarettes, menthol sweetens the nicotine poison, making it easier to start smoking and also much harder to quit," Mills said.

Previous tobacco control restrictions have also been very effective in helping people quit smoking, Mills said.

"Tobacco control is considered a public health success. We have been able to significantly reduce smoking rates in the total population over the past few decades to reach relatively low smoking rates overall at this time," he said.

  • The high percentage of Latinos who consume menthol cigarettes in the US

But disparities in smoking rates and smoking-related diseases need to be addressed, Mills said.

Black adults die at significantly higher rates than white adults from smoking-related diseases, including stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer. Blacks make up 12% of the US population, but the community accounts for 41% of smoking-related premature deaths and 50% of the years of life lost associated with the use of menthol tobacco products among 1980 and 2018, according to a study.

If menthols were banned, the gap between black and white lung cancer deaths would close within five years, according to a Council on Foreign Relations study.

Dr. Rafael Meza, an expert in tobacco epidemiology and control, said the new research comes at a crucial time as the United States considers a ban on menthol.

"It adds to the already very compelling evidence that banning menthol would result in fewer people smoking cigarettes and provide greater public health benefits, especially for populations that have fairly high rates of use, particularly black Americans," he said. Meza, a distinguished senior and scientist at the BC Cancer Research Institute in Canada who was not involved in the new research.

Meza said he would love to see literature show that bans encourage everyone to quit smoking. But the new findings may not fully capture all quitters, he said, because people who switch to menthol-free products might find it easier to quit in the future.

"Every day there is more and more evidence that it would be a good idea to ban," Meza said. "Everyone working in tobacco control is looking forward to this."

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