The US FDA announced its commitment to prohibiting menthol as a characterizing flavor in tobacco. The relationship between cigarette menthol and exposure to toxic substances in mainstream tobacco smoke is not well characterized.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2015 to 2016 special sample were used to study markers of 26 harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHC) in tobacco smoke. These include urine metabolites of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and heavy metals in exclusive menthol (n = 162) and nonmenthol (n = 189) cigarette smokers. Urine metabolites of 7 PAHs, 15 VOCs, and 4 heavy metal biomarkers were compared by menthol status. Multivariable analyses were conducted on creatinine-adjusted concentrations.
There were no significant differences in cotinine levels or in 22 of 26 HPHCs. Among the urine metabolites of PAHs, the levels of 1-hydroxyphenanthrene were about 16% lower in menthol smokers. Among the urine metabolites of VOCs, menthol cigarette smokers presented significantly lower concentrations of acrylamide, N,N-dimethylformamide, and acrylonitrile. Menthol and nonmenthol smokers presented similar levels of heavy metals. Menthol did not affect the levels of cotinine and the nicotine metabolite ratio in urine.
Menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes deliver similar levels of most HPHCs.
Findings on toxicity are similar for menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes.