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Evaluating the effect of switching to non-menthol cigarettes among current menthol smokers: an empirical study of a potential ban of characterising menthol flavour in cigarettes

Abstract

Introduction Menthol cigarette use remains a serious public health problem, prompting the consideration of tobacco regulatory efforts to ban menthol cigarettes. The current study uses a novel empirical design to model the potential effects of a ban of menthol cigarettes on smoking behaviour among current menthol smokers.

Methods 29 non-treatment-seeking adults who smoked menthol cigarettes were recruited in Connecticut in 2017–2018 (n=15 female; n=17 Black, n=10 White, n=5 Hispanic). Repeated-measures analyses examined within-person changes in smoking behaviour when participants were switched from smoking their usual brand menthol cigarettes to a matched-brand non-menthol cigarette for 2 weeks to model a potential ban of menthol cigarettes.

Results Participants smoked significantly fewer non-menthol (vs menthol) cigarettes per day (mean decrease=2.2 cigarettes, SD=3.2, p<0.001), confirmed by significant reductions in urine cotinine levels (p=0.013). After switching to non-menthol cigarettes, participants had significantly lower nicotine dependence scores (reduced by >18%, p<0.001) and greater increases in quitting motivation and confidence (rated 1–10) (motivation: mean increase=2.1, SD=2.8, p<0.001; confidence: mean increase=1.3, SD=3.3, p=0.04). Exploratory analyses indicated significant interactions by race (p=0.004); Black smokers had greater reductions in cigarettes per day (mean decrease=3.5 cigarettes, SD=2.8) versus non-Black smokers (mean decrease=0.2, SD=2.6).

Conclusions Banning menthol as a characterising flavour in cigarettes may decrease smoking and reduce the addictive potential of cigarettes among current smokers. Results provide additional support for tobacco regulatory policies banning menthol flavour in an effort to improve public health.

Trial registration NCT03075839.

  • addiction
  • public policy
  • priority/special populations
  • disparities
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