Menthol is one of the additives used in tobacco that masks how harsh, painful and damaging the toxic smoke really is. It also makes smoking more addictive.
How does menthol con you?
Additives in tobacco products mask the smoke’s true harshness. If the tobacco didn’t have additives in it, the toxic smoke would be so strong and harsh on the throat that few people could inhale it.1
Menthol is one of the additives used that makes the smoke feel less harmful than it is. It does this by triggering a cold feeling in your mouth and dulling pain receptors.2-4
When you can’t feel the true harshness of the smoke, you get fewer instant cues that the toxic smoke is damaging your airways. It allows you to keep taking lungfuls of cancer-causing chemicals.1
Since menthol masks how harsh and painful the smoke really is, people who begin smoking find the smoke less irritating. This makes it easier for young people to start smoking.5
How does menthol make smoking more addictive?
Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco.6, 7 Menthol increases the effect of nicotine in your brain by increasing the number of nicotine receptors in the brain. This makes the brain more sensitive to nicotine.8
People who smoke menthols are more likely to:5, 9
- have a stronger craving for a cigarette after not smoking for a while
- have a smoke within the first five minutes after waking
- wake at night to smoke.
Since menthol makes smoking more addictive, it can make it easier for young people to become addicted and harder for people to quit.5, 9, 10
These are some of the reasons why menthol is banned from being added to tobacco in Europe, Canada and some other countries.
Is menthol in only some varieties of tobacco?
A large amount of menthol is added to some varieties of tobacco. Tobacco companies either name these varieties ‘menthol’ or ‘menthol green’, or they use words in the brand name to describe a fresh sensation, such as ‘fresh’ or ‘ice’ or ‘frosted’.
A smaller amount of menthol is added to many other varieties of tobacco.11 This may not be enough to give the tobacco a fresh taste, so many people may not even realise that there is menthol in this tobacco.
No matter what they do to it, you’re inhaling the same toxic poisons.
It doesn’t matter what it tastes like or how it feels, all tobacco smoke contains over 200 toxic poisons.12-20
Escape the con
Menthol masks just how harsh and painful the toxic smoke really is. It allows you to keep taking lungfuls of cancer-causing chemicals. It also makes smoking more addictive. It can make it easier for young people to start smoking, and harder to quit.
The best way to escape this con is to quit smoking. Find tips and support today.
Frequently asked questions
What about herbal cigarettes?
Herbal cigarettes are not safer than tobacco cigarettes. The smoke released from herbal cigarettes contains harmful substances that are also found in tobacco cigarettes. People who smoke herbal cigarettes expose themselves to dangerous levels of tar...
What about shisha (waterpipe, nargile, hookah)?
People may mistake the sweet smell of shisha as being less harmful compared to cigarettes, however it has very similar health risks to smoking cigarettes and in some cases, it may be worse...
Do you know how many chemicals are in tobacco smoke and how they get there?
All tobacco products are harmful. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 different chemicals. More than 200 of these chemicals are poisonous, released when the tobacco is burned. At least 69 are known to cause cancer. It doesn’t matter what tobacco product you use, or what the smoke tastes or feels like – all tobacco smoke is toxic to your body.
1. Winnall WR. 12.6 Additives and flavourings in tobacco products, https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-12-tobacco-products/12-6-additives-and-flavourings-in-tobacco-products (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
2. Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. Menthol cigarettes and public health: review of the scientific evidence and recommendations [final edits]. 2011. Center for Tobacco Products, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
3. Wickham RJ. How menthol alters tobacco-smoking behavior: a biological perspective. Yale J Biol Med 2015; 88: 279-287.
4. Ha MA, Smith GJ, Cichocki JA, et al. Menthol attenuates respiratory irritation and elevates blood cotinine in cigarette smoke exposed mice. PLoS One 2015; 10: e0117128.
5. Villanti AC, Collins LK, Niaura RS, et al. Menthol cigarettes and the public health standard: a systematic review. BMC Public Health 2017; 17: 983.
6. Edwards G, Arif A and Hadgson R. Nomenclature and classification of drug-and alcohol-related problems: a WHO memorandum. Bull World Health Organ 1981; 59: 225–242.
7. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatry Association, 2013.
8. Brody AL, Mukhin AG, La Charite J, et al. Up-regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in menthol cigarette smokers. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 2013; 16: 957-966.
9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary scientific evaluation of the possible public health effects of menthol versus nonmenthol cigarettes. www.fda.gov/downloads/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/PeerReviewofScientificInformationandAssessments/UCM361598.pdf (2013, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
10. Smith PH, Assefa B, Kainth S, et al. Use of mentholated cigarettes and likelihood of smoking cessation in the United States: a meta-analysis. Nic Tob Res 2020; 22: 307-316.
11. WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg). Advisory note: Banning menthol in tobacco products, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/205928/1/9789241510332_eng.pdf (2016, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
12. National Toxicology Program. Report on carcinogens, 9th edition. 1999. US Department of Health and Human Services.
13. National Toxicology Program. Report on carcinogens, 15th edition. 2021. US Department of Health and Human Services.
14. National Toxicology Program. NTP Report on carcinogens background document for environmental tobacco smoke. 1998. US Department of Health and Human Services.
15. National Toxicology Program. NTP Report on carcinogens background document for tobacco smoking, Final March 1999. 1999. US Department of Health and Human Services.
16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: a report of the Surgeon General. 2006. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Biomonitoring Program. Tobacco., https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/tobacco.html (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
18. World Health Organization. The tobacco body, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-NMH-PND-19.1 (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
19. NIH National Cancer Institute. Harms of cigarette smoking and health benefits of quitting, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet#r1 (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).
20. Australian Government Department of Health. What is smoking and tobacco?, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/smoking-and-tobacco/about-smoking-and-tobacco/what-is-smoking-and-tobacco (2022, accessed 19 Sep 2022).