New Scientist reveals how menthol – something originally added to cigarettes to soothe smokers’ throats – actually makes cigarettes more ‘cigarette-y’:
People who smoke menthol cigarettes often smoke more frequently and can be less likely to quit – and it could be because fresh-tasting menthol is changing their brains to more sensitive to nicotine.
How menthol enhances nicotine addiction has been something of a mystery. Now, Brandon Henderson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues have shown that exposing mice to menthol alone causes them to develop more nicotinic receptors, the parts of the brain that are targeted by nicotine.
In one study of giving up smoking, 50 per cent of unflavoured-cigarette smokers were able to quit, while menthol smokers showed quitting rates as low as 23 per cent, depending on ethnicity.
Over time, smokers of both menthol and unflavoured cigarettes acquire more receptors for nicotine, particularly in neurons involved in the body’s neural pathways for reward and motivation. And research last year showed that smokers of menthol cigarettes develop even more of these receptors than smokers of unflavoured cigarettes.
Watch out for that mint. It’s potent stuff.