Aims To examine the relationship between menthol and non-menthol prices and smoke-free air laws and the choice between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes among current smokers.
Design, setting and participants Data were extracted from the nationally representative (USA) 2003 and 2006/07 Tobacco Use Supplements to the Current Population Survey. A total of 57 383 adult smokers (aged 18+) were examined.
Measurements A regression model was used to estimate the probability of being a menthol smoker conditional on being a current smoker who had a distinct preference for either non-menthol or menthol cigarettes. Cigarette prices, smoke-free air laws and socio-economic and demographic characteristics were examined as covariates.
Findings The prices of menthol and non-menthol cigarettes were associated with the choice between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes. However, smokers did not find menthol and non-menthol cigarettes to be close substitutes for one another. Non-menthol cigarettes were found to be less of a substitute for menthol cigarettes than vice versa. Young adults and African Americans were less responsive to prices with respect to switching between menthol and non-menthol cigarettes than were older adults and non-African Americans, respectively.
Conclusions The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is grappling with the issue of whether or not to ban menthol cigarettes. The findings from this study suggest that smokers do not find menthol and non-menthol cigarettes to be close substitutes. The strong preference for mentholated cigarettes may serve as a lever to reduce smoking prevalence when combined with increased access to effective cessation treatments.