Researchers say that menthol has been used to make some US cigarette brands less harsh, meaning young smokers get more nicotine. A leading tobacco company did not admit such statements.
The study analyzed a 2006 inquiry of US smokers, and found that more adolescent and young adult smokers (between the age of 12 and 17 = 43.8% of smokers and 35.6% of 18 to 24-year-olds).
The Harvard scientists suggested that industry documents, aimed at the actions against tobacco firms, showed how companies carried out market research into the effect of menthol levels.
This demonstrated that these companies tried to aim tobacco products specifically at younger people.
One of the researchers, Professor Howard Koh, said: “For decades, the tobacco industry has carefully manipulated menthol content not only to lure youth but also to lock in lifelong adult customers.”
They called on the US authorities to make regulation of tobacco additives tougher.
Amanda Sandford, from the anti-smoking campaign group ASH: “In the UK, mentholated and flavored cigarettes are far less popular.
However, if something works in the US, then it wouldn’t be too surprising to see it introduced over here.” Also she added: “The UK has had for many years a voluntary system for the regulation of ingredients, as a result of extensive co-operation between the companies, the government and government-appointed committees.
Under the terms of the voluntary agreement, UK tobacco companies have regularly held discussions with the Department of Health about modifications to the list of approved additives and continue to engage in these discussions.”
A spokesman for Philip Morris USA said: “We disagree with the authors’ conclusion that menthol levels in our products were manipulated to gain market share among adolescents – and are unable to find evidence supporting that conclusion within the study.
The company’s various brands, including our menthol cigarette brands, are designed to meet the diverse taste preferences of adults who smoke. We believe kids should not use tobacco and our marketing methods are designed to minimize reach to unintended audiences – such as kids.”