OU Medicine researcher receives grant to study effects of menthol in young adults’ smoking habits | Coronavirus

OU Medicine announced Thursday a university researcher received a $1.3 million grant to study the

OU Medicine announced Thursday a university researcher received a $1.3 million grant to study the role of menthol in smoking habits among young adults.

Amy Cohn, who is part of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s Health Promotion Research Center at the Stephenson Cancer Center, received the grant from the National Institutes of Health and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products. Cohn said menthol cigarettes are likely linked to positive first experiences which lead young people to continue smoking. 

“A lot of young people who initiate tobacco use with a cigarette do so with menthol, and one of the hypotheses for this is that the minty, cool sensation of menthol masks the harshness of inhaled cigarette smoke,” said Cohn. “Young people who had their first cigarette with menthol flavoring reported a more positive smoking experience compared to young people who didn’t smoke menthol as their first cigarette. That’s important because an initial positive experience is linked to ongoing use of tobacco products.”

The study will also help the FDA bring low-nicotine cigarettes to the market with the aim of helping people reduce and ultimately quit smoking, Cohn said. 

According to the release, previous studies have shown low-nicotine cigarettes help people stop smoking. Cohn will investigate whether menthol flavoring in low-nicotine cigarettes helps users stop smoking or if it entices people to continue smoking.

Cohn uses three primary methods in her laboratory to measure the appeal of different types of cigarettes, according to the release.

According to the release, one method is analyzing smoking behavior, which is a “proxy for the influence of a particular tobacco product.” Cohn also gives study participants cigarettes, both menthol and regular, “to take home and smoke as they wish for a week” so they can report on how satisfying each type was in relation to the other, and whether they chose to use other tobacco products instead. The final method involves study participants taking part in an “experimental tobacco marketplace,” in which they shop online according to the availability of various tobacco products, including low-nicotine options. 

In 2009, the FDA banned numerous cigarette flavors in an effort to decrease their attractiveness to young people, but it did not ban menthol flavoring, according to the release. 

“Menthol cigarettes are disproportionately used by several at-risk populations, including African Americans, young people, Hispanics and women,” Cohn said. “There are a lot of hypotheses that a ban on menthol would reduce the public health impact of cigarette smoking, which we know is a very strong risk factor for cancer and other diseases. Our research will help the FDA make decisions in its regulatory efforts.”

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