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Menthol Cigarettes Pose No Added Lung Cancer Risk: Study

WEDNESDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- The risk of lung cancer for people who smoke menthol cigarettes is no greater than that of those who prefer regular cigarettes, researchers report.

The findings echo those of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel that made headlines Friday when it said a ban on mentholated cigarettes might benefit the public health. While the panel concluded that menthols' minty flavor seems to help people take up smoking more readily, it added that there was no evidence menthols were any more dangerous than regular cigarettes in terms of risks for lung cancer or other respiratory ailments.

The new study, published online March 23 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, seems to agree with that notion. In fact, the researchers found that people who smoke menthol cigarettes might even have a somewhat lower risk of developing and dying from lung cancer than other smokers.

But one expert said that no one should be misled by the findings into thinking menthols can keep lung cancer, emphysema and other respiratory diseases at bay.

"While this study finds no difference in lung cancer rates in smokers of menthol cigarettes versus non-menthol cigarettes, it is still inconveniently true that all cigarettes can cause lung cancer, as well as other cancers, heart disease, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and circulatory problems," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "There is simply no safe smoking."

The U.S. team analyzed data from almost 86,000 people taking part in an ongoing multiracial study in 12 southern states. They identified 440 lung cancer patients and compared them with more than 2,200 healthy people.

Menthol cigarettes were associated with lower lung cancer incidence and fewer lung cancer deaths than regular cigarettes, according to the study. For example, among people who smoked 20 or more cigarettes a day, menthol cigarette smokers were about 12 times more likely to develop lung cancer than never-smokers while the risk was about 21 times higher for smokers of regular cigarettes.

Menthol cigarettes are no more, and perhaps less, harmful than regular cigarettes, concluded study author William J. Blot, of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn., and the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, Md., and colleagues.

The study authors agreed with Horovitz, however, that there is no safe cigarette.

"Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in the United States, but undue emphasis on reduction of menthol relative to other cigarettes may distract from the ultimate health prevention message that smoking of any cigarettes is injurious to health," Blot's team noted.

After looking over its advisory panel's report, the FDA will consider whether to ban or regulate menthol cigarettes. According to officials, the first response to the report is due from the agency within three months.

More information has more about menthol cigarettes.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: Len Horovitz, M.D., pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, March 23, 2011

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