Systematic review of the epidemiological evidence comparing lung cancer risk in smokers of mentholated and unmentholated cigarettes
P.N. Lee Statistics and Computing Ltd, Surrey, UK
BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2011, 11:18 doi:10.1186/1471-2466-11-18Published: 18 April 2011
US mentholated cigarette sales have increased considerably over 50 years. Preference for mentholated cigarettes is markedly higher in Black people. While menthol itself is not genotoxic or carcinogenic, its acute respiratory effects might affect inhalation of cigarette smoke. This possibility seems consistent with the higher lung cancer risk in Black men, despite Black people smoking less and starting smoking later than White people. Despite experimental data suggesting similar carcinogenicity of mentholated and non-mentholated cigarettes, the lack of convincing evidence that mentholation increases puffing, inhalation or smoke uptake, and the similarity of lung cancer rates in Black and White females, a review of cigarette mentholation and lung cancer is timely given current regulatory interest in the topic.
Epidemiological studies comparing lung cancer risk in mentholated and non-mentholated cigarette smokers were identified from MedLine and other sources. Study details were extracted and strengths and weaknesses assessed. Relative risk estimates were extracted, or derived, for ever mentholated use and for long-term use, overall and by gender, race, and current/ever smoking, and meta-analyses conducted.
Eight generally good quality studies were identified, with valid cases and controls, and appropriate adjustment for age, gender, race and smoking. The studies afforded good power to detect possible effects. However, only one study presented results by histological type, none adjusted for occupation or diet, and some provided no results by length of mentholated cigarette use.
The data do not suggest any effect of mentholation on lung cancer risk. Adjusted relative risk estimates for ever use vary from 0.81 to 1.12, giving a combined estimate of 0.93 (95% confidence interval 0.84-1.02, n = 8), with no increase in males (1.01, 0.84-1.22, n = 5), females (0.80, 0.67-0.95, n = 5), White people (0.87, 0.75-1.03, n = 4) or Black people (0.90, 0.73-1.10, n = 4). Estimates for current and ever smokers are similar. The combined estimate for long-term use (0.95, 0.80-1.13, n = 4) again suggests no effect of mentholation.
Higher lung cancer rates in Black males cannot be due to their greater preference for mentholated cigarettes. While some study weaknesses exist, the epidemiological evidence is consistent with mentholation having no effect on the lung carcinogenicity of cigarettes.