Objective: To describe the prevalence of menthol use and perceptions of relative harmfulness among smokers in an ethnically diverse population where tobacco marketing is relatively constrained (New Zealand).
Methods: The New Zealand (NZ) arm of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Survey (ITC Project) utilises the NZ Health Survey (a national sample). From this sample we surveyed adult smokers, with Wave 2 (n=923) covering beliefs around menthol cigarettes.
Results: Agreement with the statement that “menthol cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes” was higher in smokers who were: older, Māori, Pacific, Asian, financially stressed and had higher levels of individual deprivation. Most of these associations were statistically significant in at least some of the logistic regression models (adjusting for socio-economic and smoking beliefs and behaviour). In the fully-adjusted model this belief was particularly elevated in Pacific smokers (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 7.36, 95% CI = 1.92 – 28.27) and also in menthol smokers (aOR = 4.58, 95% CI = 1.94–10.78). Most smokers in this study (56%), and especially menthol smokers (73%), believed that menthols are “smoother on your throat and chest”.
Conclusion: Various groups of smokers in this national sample had misperceptions around the relative harmfulness of menthols, which is consistent with most previous studies.
Implications: This evidence, along with a precautionary approach, supports arguments for enhanced regulation of tobacco marketing and tobacco ingredients such as menthol.