Approximately 47 percent of Latinos who smoke prefer menthol cigarettes, indicates a report from Forbes. In fact, data indicates most menthol smokes are from minorities; 83 percent of African American smokers and 51 percent of Asian smokers also turn to menthols as their cigarette of choice.
Menthol cigarettes are perceived as “healthier” for these smokers, though the dangers of menthol cigarettes are very real–and may even be worse than traditional tobacco.
In addition to the health issues associated with menthol cigarettes, because of their less-offensive initial flavor, they are often seen as the “gateway” cigarette for the more than 80 percent of smokers who start before the age of 18. In fact, more than half of Latino children who smoke use menthol cigarettes, according to an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.
While flavored tobacco products still exist, menthol is currently to only flavoring legal to use in tobacco cigarettes, and all other flavor additives were banned by Congress in 2009. Now, because of the health risks and implications regarding childhood smoking, the FDA may eventually move to ban menthol cigarettes all together.
What are the dangers of menthol cigarettes?
When it comes to smoking cigarettes, there are a number of well-known health risks, and menthol cigarettes are no different. Because of their minty flavor, this type of tobacco product can seem less dangerous under the thought process that regular cigarettes must be worse for an individual because they taste worse.
The reality, however, is that menthol cigarettes carry all the same health risks as regular cigarettes, plus a few more.
In the July FDA investigation, experts found menthol cigarettes not only increase the risk of addiction, they affect a person’s health in some ways traditional cigarettes do not.
In the report, scientists found in vivo and in vitro studies adequately demonstrated menthol has cooling, desensitizating, and proanalgesic effects, primarily acting through receptors on sensory nerves.
The FDA’s conclusion was menthol in cigarettes is likely associated with altered physiological responses to tobacco smoke, making exposure more desirable for the body.
This increased dependence by the body on menthol cigarettes was also supported by evidence in the report, which found menthol smokers were more likely than other smokers to have a cigarettes within 5 minutes of waking up. Night waking to smoke is considered a marker of dependence, and the FDA concluded individuals smoking menthols showed more signs of addiction.
All of the health risks unique and not unique to menthol cigarettes are further increased because of how addictive they are and how often they are used as an introductory tobacco product.
The addictive nature is the crux of why the FDA may move to pull menthols from store shelves.
“The evidence unequivocally shows that the result would be a dramatically larger illegal cigarette market than currently exists,” the report said. “As a result, there also would be severe negative impacts on public health, including exposure of smokers to more harmful contraband cigarettes, increased access of youth to tobacco, increased criminal activity particularly in urban communities, reduced government revenues and loss of jobs.”
As for everyone else, for Latinos, the dangers of menthol cigarettes are very real. However, a number of existing health disparities complicate the health risks of smoking for this demographic; Latinos are less likely to seek care for illnesses related to smoking and are at an increased risk for chronic illnesses which are complicated by smoking, like diabetes.
Originally published on VOXXI as The many dangers of menthol cigarettes: Latinos at increased risk