Tobacco companies manipulate the amount of menthol in cigarettes to make those first few puffs more palatable to young smokers, U.S. researchers said in a finding that could fuel support for more tobacco regulation.
“Menthol stimulates the cooling receptors in the lung and oral pharynx,” said Dr. Gregory Connolly of the Harvard School of Public Health. “It makes smoking easier.”
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, comes as the U.S. Congress considers legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration broad authority to regulate tobacco.
Representatives of tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard disputed the findings.
“It would appear this report is simply an effort to push support for federal regulation of the tobacco industry, not a scientific review of the menthol category,” said David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, a unit of Reynolds American Inc and maker of Camel and Kool cigarettes.
Lorillard Inc spokesman Michael Robinson said in a statement: “The American public should view this report for what it is, a politically motivated lobbying tool.”
Smoking is the biggest so called legal cause of preventable death in the world.
Menthol cigarette brands have been rising in popularity with adolescents and the highest use has been among younger, newer smokers.
Connolly and colleagues studied internal company research on menthol use released as part of a large tobacco settlement. They also conducted independent laboratory tests and reviewed population studies on smoking trends.