Although teen smoking overall has declined, the proportion who smoke menthol cigarettes is rising — 17.5% from 2000 to 2002, according to the American Legacy Foundation, created as a result of the 1998 settlement between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry. About 44% of smokers ages 12 to 17 use menthol cigarettes, the foundation says.
"It makes no sense" to keep menthol cigarettes on the market, says Legacy CEO Cheryl Healton.
A 2002 study found 60% of middle school smokers smoked menthol, says scientist James Hersey with RTI International, an independent research institute in Washington, D.C. "I think menthol is easier to smoke, so kids will often start with menthol."
And Hersey's research suggests young menthol smokers are more likely to be addicted to nicotine than their peers who smoke non-menthol cigarettes. But studies of whether menthol smokers find it more difficult to quit than non-menthol smokers have had mixed results.
In a study of more than 4,000 middle and high school students, University of Georgia researchers Jerome Legge and Jessica Muilenburg found menthol smokers smoked more cigarettes than non-menthol smokers.