June 17 (UPI) -- Menthol cigarettes have been disproportionated marketed to black communities for decades, and the effects of that promotion had a lingering effect, new findings show.
In fact, the likelihood that black smokers will quit menthol cigarettes is 12 percent lower than quitting non-menthol cigarettes, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
"Much of the rationale for why menthol flavoring might impede cessation has to do with how menthol flavoring might make the nicotine in cigarettes more reinforcing," Philip Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Miami University and study author, said in a news release.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 19 studies selected from over 400 abstracts examining the link between menthol use and smoking cessation. They found a much stronger link between black smokers and menthol cigarettes, although white smokers also found it somewhat difficult to quit.
"The fact that we didn't find consistency across racial and ethnic groups, we think, might point to the causal role of social influences like tobacco marketing," Smith said.
In the 1940s, heavy cigarette marketing blanketed the black community, and many African-Americans preferred smoking menthol cigarettes believing they were safer than non-menthol, the researchers say.
Since then, big tobacco has had help from some black civil right organizations gaining a foothold in black communities. The NAACP and National Urban League, two long-established black-oriented organizations, have taken money from major tobacco companies.
The researchers also think the perception that menthol cigarettes are less dangerous may help fuel their popularity.
"Some people believe they are less dangerous, even though they are, in epidemiological studies, found to be at least as dangerous as non-mentholated cigarettes," Smith said. "Menthol is a topical anesthetic that numbs the respiratory tract. People inhale them more easily, which gives the perception of safety."
To combat the problem, the researchers recommend banning menthol cigarettes, altogether.
"It all comes down to power and who has more of it and who has less of it, and why," Smith said. "Such a policy might effectively take some power away from the tobacco industry and give it back to blacks and African Americans in the U.S."