Among Menthol Smokers, African American Women Struggle Most to Quit

July 22, 2014

Among Menthol Smokers, African American Women Struggle Most to Quit

MADISON—Menthol flavoring may make it harder to quit smoking cigarettes, especially for African-American women, according to a new study published online by the journal Addiction. In a series of analyses of a large quit-smoking clinical trial, investigators from the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI) controlled for variables such as education, type of medication, and peer smoking, and the findings did not change.

The relation between menthol smoking and quitting is timely because the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco, called for further evaluation of menthol smoking, and empowered the FDA to ban menthol in cigarettes.

The paper, authored by UW-CTRI Scientists Stevens Smith, Michael Fiore, and Tim Baker, reports that 38% of non-menthol smokers quit by the 6-month follow-up versus only 31% of menthol smokers, a statistically significant difference. In addition, UW-CTRI researchers reported that 35% of white females who smoked menthols quit but only 17% of African-American females who smoked menthols were able to quit. Meanwhile, quit rates among men who smoked menthols were virtually identical (30%), regardless of race.

“The findings from this study suggest that menthol flavoring may make it much harder for African-American women to quit smoking,” said UW-CTRI Researcher Stevens Smith. “Further research is needed to understand this finding.”

UW-CTRI Director of Research Tim Baker added, “African-American women might have differed from White women on multiple factors, and some of these other factors no doubt contributed to their greater difficulty in quitting smoking.”

In this UW-CTRI study, participants received either FDA-approved quit-smoking medications or placebo. In addition, all participants received 6 individual counseling sessions. Across all treatment options, menthol smokers had a harder time quitting smoking than non-menthol smokers. Smoking status was biochemically-confirmed by researchers at 4, 8, and 26 weeks after the participant’s quit date.

UW-CTRI Director Dr. Michael Fiore said menthol flavoring can, for some people, reduce the harsh taste of cigarettes. “Over the years, research has shown that menthol, like banned flavoring, may pave the road to addiction for many smokers. These new findings add to that body of evidence, that menthol may make a lethal product even more addictive.”

The authors added that it’s important to note that people who smoke menthols can quit smoking. Anyone in the US who smokes can get free help by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes sponsored this UW-CTRI research in collaboration with the FDA.

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UW-CTRI is a nationally recognized research center founded in 1992 and committed to determining the nature of tobacco dependence and developing evidence-based treatments to assist smokers. UW-CTRI has generated more than $100 million in grant funding and assisted more than 200,000 smokers. UW-CTRI is part of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. For more information, visit