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West J Med. 1997 March; 166(3): 189–194.
PMCID: PMC1304117

African-American smokers and cancers of the lung and of the upper respiratory and digestive tracts. Is menthol part of the puzzle?


The prevalence of cigarette smoking is higher among African Americans than among whites. African Americans have higher rates of lung cancer than whites, although they smoke fewer cigarettes. To explore this black-white difference in lung cancer rates, I examine various aspects of tobacco use in African-American smokers, including the age of initiation of smoking, quantity of cigarettes smoked, quit rates, level of nicotine dependence, biochemical differences, and brand preferences, specifically menthol brand cigarettes. I also review briefly the sequelae of patterns of tobacco use, including rates of lung and other tobacco-related cancers. A preference for mentholated cigarettes by African Americans is well documented and is one of the most striking differences between African-American and white smokers. Menthol brand preference has been investigated in an attempt to explain the black-white differences in rates of cancers of the lungs and the upper respiratory and digestive tracts. Also, studies have evaluated smoking behavior both with and without menthol and have explicitly examined the question of whether menthol use helps explain the black-white difference in lung cancer rates. The results of these studies are so far inconclusive with regard to the use of menthol and the risk of lung cancer developing. I provide practical suggestions for clinicians in counseling African-American smokers to quit smoking and to maintain a nonsmoking status.

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Selected References

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