NEW research from the University of California shows menthol cigarettes keep smokers hooked.
The new study of almost 6000 smokers across the US found that menthol smokers were 53 per cent more likely to keep smoking when compared with a control group.
Cancer Council Chair of Tobacco Issues Committee Libby Jardine said the study demonstrated why Cancer Council has strengthened calls to the Australian Government to ban flavours in tobacco products.
“Smoking is still our leading cause of preventable death in Australia,” she said.
“With these menthol flavours, they’re really making the experience of killing yourself smoother.”
The study found that the prevalence of menthol use is “disproportionately high” among young smokers, and this demographic have been disproportionately targeted by tobacco industry marketing of menthol.
“Adding crush balls into filters and there are all sorts of new gimmicks luring new customers to smoking,” said Ms Jardine.
Quitting has never been harder for young smokers
For those like Michelle Martin of Catasauqua, a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, smoking became a habit during college.
“I was working at a movie theatre over the summer and I just went to a gas station nearby and bought a pack of cigarettes, Ms Martin said.
“I really think it’s the nicotine you get addicted to, and then a matter of preference on the menthol. But I can also say for me, if I bummed a regular cigarette off someone, it was never as satisfying as a menthol one.”
She said her addiction to marijuana and alcohol quickly spread to cigarettes and began to impair her sporting life.
“My shortness of breath was ridiculous; I couldn’t play rugby anymore; I couldn’t run without getting out of breath.”
Over time, concerns about Michelle’s health became secondary to that of her newly born niece.
“My sister was the one who would always say something,” she said.
“Because she had just had a new baby, she would always make me take a shower right when I got to her house.”
“She’d say ‘you really need to quit smoking Michelle, don’t you want to be alive when my daughter graduates college?'”
For participants in the study, smokers of menthol varieties who switched to non-menthol products increased their likelihood of not smoking for more than 30 days by 58 per cent.
In Australia, smoking rates have continued to decline among the population.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in a recent address to the National Press Club committed to reducing smoking rates in Australia to below 10 per cent.
“We’ve gone from 22.4 per cent over a decade ago, of Australians who were smoking, down through concerted national efforts across different governments, to 13.8 per cent of Australians who are smoking, but there’s more to be done,” he said.
Ms Jardine of Cancer Council says reviving the national tobacco campaign and expanding smoke-free environments are essential to lowering rates, but there are “no silver bullets when it comes to tobacco control”.
Michelle has now gone 59 days without smoking a cigarette.
“Twenty months ago, I quit drinking and using and started going to twelve-step meetings and I think that being able to do that is what made me feel like I could quit smoking cigarettes too,” she said.
At the height of her cravings, replacing the act of smoking brought Michelle a respite from the voice inside her head.
“I would take strawberries out on the porch where I used to smoke and I would sit there and I would eat the strawberries instead of smoking a cigarette,” she said.
When asked if she thought she would smoke again Michelle employs the lessons taught in her twelve-step meetings.
“Just for today, that’s all I can really control.”
Elliot is a freelance print and radio journalist with a passion for experimental radio fiction, podcasting and international affairs.