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UW Wins New Grant to Study Menthol

(MADISON) –The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes (NHLBI), in collaboration with the FDA, has awarded the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI) a $368,000 grant to study the use of menthol cigarettes. This project will add to the body of research the FDA is examining to determine whether or how to regulate menthol flavoring in tobacco products.

About 75% of adult African-American smokers and about 25% of adult Caucasian smokers in the US smoke menthol cigarettes. While common, little is known about the risks of smoking menthol versus non-menthol cigarettes with regard to tobacco dependence or quitting motivation and success.

The proposed research will use the unique resources of the Wisconsin Smokers’ Health Study 2 (WSHS 2) to determine the associations of menthol-smoking (versus smoking non-menthol cigarettes) with tobacco dependence, attempts to quit smoking, and quitting success. The WSHS 2 is a longitudinal study that spans close to 10 years and comprises two clinical trials of 2,500 participants that evaluate the major types of quit-smoking medications. The WSHS 2 entails comprehensive assessments of tobacco dependence, participant characteristics, and quitting attempts and success over time.

This research will use these data to determine:

  1. The relation of menthol smoking with comprehensive measures of smoking cessation, and whether such relations are stronger for some types of smokers than others (e.g., African Americans, women).
  2. The relation of menthol smoking with making quit attempts.
  3. Which types of smoking cessation medications are most effective for menthol smokers, and whether menthol and non-menthol smokers differ significantly in response to medications.
  4. The causal mechanisms that account for menthol smokers being at a different risk of smoking cessation failure (if they are found to be so) and whether medications work via the same mechanisms in menthol and non-menthol smokers.
  5. The relation of menthol smoking with important participant characteristics such as severity and type of tobacco dependence.

“This research will compare menthol smoking versus non-menthol smoking with regard to tobacco dependence and quitting success,” said UW-CTRI Director Dr. Michael Fiore. “The results should be highly relevant to decisions regarding public health policy and the regulation of menthol cigarettes.” The grant begins this month and runs through June 2014, with Dr. Fiore, Dr. James Stein of UW Cardiology, and Dr. Timothy Baker serving as principal investigators.

In related news, the FDA will launch a campaign at the end of 2013 warning youth about the dangers of menthol cigarettes.

On a recent conference call with public health officials, FDA Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller said that, if there are sufficient research data to warrant a ban on menthol use in tobacco products, the FDA is in a position to act on it.

UW-CTRI is a nationally recognized research center founded in 1992 and is committed to determining the nature of tobacco dependence and developing evidence-based treatments to assist smokers. The Center is a part of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

© 2013 UW-CTRI