Previous research has shown that menthol cigarettes are more popular among minorities, teenagers and low-income populations. And now a new study from Stanford scientists explores some of the reasons why.
A study published today in Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that tobacco companies increased the advertising and lowered the sale price of menthol cigarettes in stores near California high schools with larger populations of African-American students.
Although cigarette makers have denied using race or ethnicity to target customers, the Stanford researchers say the data shows a "predatory" marketing pattern geared toward enticing young African Americans into becoming smokers.
For instance, lead researcher Lisa Henriksen, PhD, pointed out that for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of African-American students at a school, the per-pack price of Newport (the leading brand of menthol cigarettes) was 12 cents lower. However, the prices for the leading non-menthol brand weren't affected by school demographics.
"That's important because lower prices tend to lead to increased cigarette use," Henriksen said.
The new study comes as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is gathering information on whether to ban menthol as a flavoring agent in cigarettes. The committee preparing a report on the subject for the FDA will meet in July to consider final changes to its report. There's no word yet on when the FDA will make a decision on whether to ban menthol.