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Menthol sensory qualities and smoking topography: a review of tobacco industry documents
  1. Valerie B Yerger1,2,
  2. Phyra M McCandless2
  1. 1Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Valerie B Yerger, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, Box 0612, San Francisco, CA 94143-0612, USA; valerie.yerger{at}


Objective To determine what the tobacco industry knew about the potential effects of menthol on smoking topography—how a person smokes a cigarette.

Methods A snowball strategy was used to systematically search the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library ( between 1 June 2010 and 9 August 2010. We qualitatively analysed a final collection of 252 documents related to menthol and smoking topography.

Results The tobacco industry knew that menthol has cooling, anaesthetic and analgesic properties that moderate the harshness and irritation of tobacco. Owing to its physiological effects, menthol contributes to the sensory qualities of the smoke and affects smoking topography and cigarette preference.

Conclusion Our review of industry studies suggests that the amount of menthol in a cigarette is associated with how the cigarette is smoked and how satisfying it is to the smoker. If menthol in cigarettes was banned, as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering, new/experimental smokers might choose not to smoke rather than experience the harshness of tobacco smoke and the irritating qualities of nicotine. Similarly, established menthol smokers might choose to quit if faced with an unpleasant smoking alternative.

  • Menthol
  • smoking
  • tobacco
  • tobacco industry
  • qualitative study
  • smoking topography
  • tobacco products
  • volatile organic compounds

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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  • This manuscript will be useful for the Tobacco Control readership in all countries that are parties to the FCTC, as they implement the product regulation provisions of the FCTC.

  • Funding Supported by the Department of Health and Human Services Contract HHSN261201000035I, California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, Grant #16RT-0149, and National Cancer Institute grant CA113710-05. Staff from the Food and Drug Administration offered comments on the original white paper. Neither the FDA nor the NCI played any role in the decision to publish or in preparation of this manuscript for submission to Tobacco Control.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed. This peer reviewed paper is based on a longer, more detailed (but not peer reviewed) white paper prepared for the US Food and Drug Administration. The full white paper is available at and

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