A US study has found that menthol cigarette makers target young African-Americans to market it in a predatory manner through more ads and lower prices near California schools.
Researchers at Stanford University said their findings, published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, show that menthol cigarette makers are aiming to get young people addicted and are harming the nation's health.
For many years, the mint-flavored cigarettes have been more popular among blacks than other ethnic groups. US regulators are mulling whether to restrict or ban the sale of menthol cigarettes altogether.
For the study, researchers randomly selected food shops and convenience stores in easy walking distance of 91 schools, and took note of how cigarettes were marketed.
In places with more black kids, the price of Newports, a top brand of menthols, was lower and more advertisements could be seen.
"For every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of African-American students at a school, the proportion of advertisements for menthol cigarettes increased by 5.9 percentage points," said the study.
"Additionally, the odds of an advertised discount for Newport, the leading brand of menthol cigarettes, were 1.5 times greater."
For every 10 percent increase in the number of black students at a nearby school, the price of a pack of Newports was 12 cents lower. Similar discounts by demographics were not seen in a leading non-menthol brand, Marlboro.
"That's important because lower prices tend to lead to increased cigarette use," said Lisa Henriksen, senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
Lorillard, the company that makes Newports, did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
The US Food and Drug Administration is set to meet July 21 to discuss whether to restrict or ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, but no date for a final decision has been set.
The FDA's advisory panel has said removing them from the market would "benefit public health in the United States." The FDA is not obligated to follow the recommendations of the panel but it often does.
"The committee was charged with considering a broad definition of harm to smokers and other populations, particularly youth," said Henriksen.
"We think our study, which shows the predatory marketing in school neighborhoods with higher concentrations of youth and African-American students, fits a broad definition of harm."
The Stanford research noted that "preference for menthol cigarettes among teenage smokers increased from 43.4 percent in 2004 to 48.3 percent in 2008." Their data on marketing near high schools was collected in 2006.
Among smoking youths aged 12-17, menthol cigarettes were most popular among African-Americans (71.9 percent), compared to Hispanics (47 percent) and whites (41 percent).