Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Who Smokes Menthols? 2020 Update from a Federal Survey


Four years ago, I discussed the characteristics of Americans who are menthol smokers, based on data in the CDC’s 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the agency’s main instrument for monitoring U.S. smoking trends, including consumption of menthol products.  Despite the FDA’s strong interest in banning menthol smokes, the CDC did not collect menthol information again until 2022.  Since that data is not yet public, I am using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to update my analysis.

The FDA and its prohibition partners promote a menthol ban as a way to save Black smokers’ lives. An examination of all U.S. cigarette smokers and those who smoke menthols, as shown in the table at the left, shows the facts are far more nuanced.   

First, according to NSDUH, there were just over 40 million U.S. adult smokers in 2020.  That is almost 10 million more than reported by the CDC using the same year’s NHIS.  This will come as no surprise for followers of my work.  Thirteen years ago, I published an analysis in the journal Public Health demonstrating that NSDUH smoking estimates are much higher than those from NHIS.  It is conceivable that the NSDUH estimate is more accurate because it counts irregular smokers, as discussed here.*

The table shows that Black men (2 million) and women smokers (2.4 million) prefer menthol cigarettes (73% and 88%), but White and Hispanic smokers also consume menthol products.  Thirty-nine percent of White women smokers (almost 5 million) favor menthol, followed by White men (28%, 3.7 million); 48% of Hispanic men (1.6 million) and 55% of Hispanic women  (1.2 million) prefer menthol.

A menthol ban will disproportionately affect a larger percentage of Black smokers.  However, since 43% of all U.S. smokers preferred menthol in 2020, all racial and ethnic groups will be harried.


*Although I explain and justify my use of NSDUH here, the FDA also used this survey when it wants to exaggerate the numbers.  See my post last year: 

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