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A menthol cigarette is a cigarette flavored with the compound menthol, a substance which triggers the cold-sensitive nerves in the skin without actually providing a drop in temperature.
Cheap Menthol cigarettes have also been shown to inhibit nicotine metabolism, causing "systemic enhancement in exposure to nicotine".
First developed as the Spud Brand menthol smokes in 1924, the idea did not become popular until the Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company acquired the patent in 1927, marketing them nationwide as "Spud Menthol Cooled Cigarettes". Even then, it remained the only discount menthol cigarette on the market until the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company created the Kool brand in 1933. Not coincidentally, this was one year after Spud became one of the top five best-selling cigarette brands.
R.J. Reynolds Company launched the first menthol filter-tip cigarettes in 1950 under the Salem brand. Other brands include Newport (#1 menthol in the U.S.), Marlboro Menthol, American Spirits Menthol, Misty, Consulate, Pall Mall Menthol and Camel Menthol. In the UK there are a number of cigarette brands who have adopted to selling menthol variants, such as: Lambert & Butler, JPS, Sterling, Mayfair and Richmond.
According to the Federal Trade Commission's Cigarette Report for 2002, the latest available through their ftc.gov website, menthol cigarettes constitute 27% of the American market, up from a four-year stagnation at 26%. Additionally, menthol cigarettes are purchased disproportionately by African-American smokers, with 80% of African-American smokers using menthol cigarettes online primarily.
A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that 33.9 percent of smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 31 percent in 2004. Much of the increase comes from young people.
Although the use of menthol in ointments and cough drops is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States of America, regulation of cigarettes was removed from their purview in 2000 by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling, FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. In October 2009, the United States enacted a smoking ordinance.
By March 2011, the FDA hopes to have recommendations on menthol cigarettes, which Paul Billings of the American Lung Association said could include a ban on the product. On December 8, 2010, tobacco industry workers held a protest in Raleigh, North Carolina outside a meeting of FDA and industry representatives.
The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, of which about 1000 Lorillard workers are members, expressed dismay at not being included. Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, said in a letter to the union that input from workers was desired but "it would be logistically impossible and detract from the intention of these meetings".