Although menthol was not banned under the Tobacco Control Act, the law made it clear that this did not prevent the Food and Drug Administration from issuing a product standard to ban menthol to protect public health. The purpose of this review was to update the evidence synthesis regarding the role of menthol in initiation, dependence and cessation.
A systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature on menthol cigarettes via a PubMed search through May 9, 2017. The National Cancer Institute’s Bibliography of Literature on Menthol and Tobacco and the FDA’s 2011 report and 2013 addendum were reviewed for additional publications. Included articles addressing initiation, dependence, and cessation were synthesized based on study design and quality, consistency of evidence across populations and over time, coherence of findings across studies, and plausibility of the findings.
Eighty-two studies on menthol cigarette initiation ( n = 46), dependence ( n = 14), and cessation ( n = 34) were included. Large, representative studies show an association between menthol and youth smoking that is consistent in magnitude and direction. One longitudinal and eight cross-sectional studies demonstrate that menthol smokers report increased nicotine dependence compared to non-menthol smokers. Ten studies support the temporal relationship between menthol and reduced smoking cessation, as they measure cessation success at follow-up.
The strength and consistency of the associations in these studies support that the removal of menthol from cigarettes is likely to reduce youth smoking initiation, improve smoking cessation outcomes in adult smokers, and in turn, benefit public health.