TitleWhy We Must Continue to Investigate Menthol's Role in the African American Smoking Paradox.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsAlexander, LA, Trinidad, DR, Sakuma, K-L, Pokhrel, P, Herzog, TA, Clanton, MS, Moolchan, ET, Fagan, P
JournalNicotine Tob Res
Volume18 Suppl 1
Date Published2016 Apr
KeywordsAfrican Americans, European Continental Ancestry Group, Humans, Menthol, Prevalence, Smoking, Smoking Cessation, Smoking Prevention, Taste, Tobacco Use Disorder, United States

BACKGROUND: The disproportionate burden of tobacco use among African Americans is largely unexplained. The unexplained disparities, referred to as the African American smoking paradox, includes several phenomena. Despite their social disadvantage, African American youth have lower smoking prevalence rates, initiate smoking at older ages, and during adulthood, smoking rates are comparable to whites. Smoking frequency and intensity among African American youth and adults are lower compared to whites and American Indian and Alaska Natives, but tobacco-caused morbidity and mortality rates are disproportionately higher. Disease prediction models have not explained disease causal pathways in African Americans. It has been hypothesized that menthol cigarette smoking, which is disproportionately high among African Americans, may help to explain several components of the African American smoking paradox.

PURPOSE: This article provides an overview of the potential role that menthol plays in the African American smoking paradox. We also discuss the research needed to better understand this unresolved puzzle.

METHODS: We examined prior synthesis reports and reviewed the literature in PubMed on the menthol compound and menthol cigarette smoking in African Americans.

RESULTS: The pharmacological and physiological effects of menthol and their interaction with biological and genetic factors may indirectly contribute to the disproportionate burden of cigarette use and diseases among African Americans.

CONCLUSIONS: Future studies that examine taste sensitivity, the menthol compound, and their effects on smoking and chronic disease would provide valuable information on how to reduce the tobacco burden among African Americans.

IMPLICATIONS: Our study highlights four counterintuitive observations related to the smoking risk profiles and chronic disease outcomes among African Americans. The extant literature provides strong evidence of their existence and shows that long-standing paradoxes have been largely unaffected by changes in the social environment. African Americans smoke menthols disproportionately, and menthol's role in the African American smoking paradox has not been thoroughly explored. We propose discrete hypotheses that will help to explain the phenomena and encourage researchers to empirically test menthol's role in smoking initiation, transitions to regular smoking and chronic disease outcomes in African Americans.

Alternate JournalNicotine Tob. Res.
PubMed ID26980870
Grant ListU54 MD007584 / MD / NIMHD NIH HHS / United States