Commentary By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
In late April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new product standards by issuing two highly anticipated rules that, if finalized, would ban the manufacturing and distribution of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. This information comes as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and cigars are still widely available and used in a range of age groups in the United States and accounted for approximately 36 percent of the U.S. cigarette market in 2017.
“This proposal is in response to public health concerns about the dangers of menthol cigarettes and their popularity with some smokers,” said Charles Shieh, M.D., thoracic surgeon and director of Inspira’s Lung Cancer Program.
Menthol is a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and other related plants. It can also be synthetically produced and has been added to cigarettes and other tobacco products since the 1920s. In cigarettes and cigars, menthol produces a minty additive that creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways, making the smoke feel less harsh and easier to inhale during smoking.
“Menthol can affect how your brain registers pain,” said Dr. Shieh. “It reduces the irritation to your throat that comes from nicotine and the harshness of the cigarette smoke when you inhale.”
National Surveys show that in 2006, 43.8 percent of smokers aged 12-17 reported using menthol cigarettes, compared to 35.6 percent of smokers aged 18-24 and 30.6 percent of smokers older than 35. Despite what marketing tries to portray to society, menthol cigarettes offer no health benefits compared to non-menthol cigarettes and tend to mask the early warning symptoms of extreme addiction.
Due to the ease of smoking such a minty flavor, people who smoke menthol cigarettes often smoke more and inhale more deeply, equating to consuming larger quantities of toxic chemicals and tar. The reduction of harsh and intense sensations in the throat and airways, along with the flavor, appeals to young smokers.
Like many cigarettes, menthol cigarettes cause cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and other adverse reproductive complications.
According to the FDA, menthol purposefully increases the addictive properties of nicotine – making it harder to quit such a thing. “No tobacco products are good for you, and menthol cigarettes put your health at risk just as much as non-menthol cigarettes,” said Dr. Shieh. “However, because of their role in smoking dependence and reduced cessation rate, menthol cigarettes are a public health concern.”
If there is a time to break the habit of smoking menthol cigarettes, the time is now. With thousands of studies published proving in extreme ways how awful it is for the human body to smoke, it is important to work towards removing such an addiction in your life.
According to becomeanex.org, the three first and best steps you can take toward quitting menthol cigarettes include:
● Switching to non-menthol products for a week or so before your quitting date can improve the success of your quitting process
● Practice “mini quits” by not smoking one cigarette you would usually smoke during a typical day. “Mini quits” will give you the experience of what it feels like to crave a cigarette and deal with that feeling, leading to confidence in yourself to quit completely.
● Use medication to make quitting more comfortable, like a nicotine replacement medication like a patch or gum.
For more information on cigarettes, nicotine, and all other tobacco-related products, visit https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/menthol/index.html#:~:text=Menthol%20enhances%20the%20effec ts%20of,more%20difficult%20to%20quit%20smoking.
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