Illicit cigarettes continue to dominate in Malaysia, where 34.5% of all cigarettes (ITIC 2013), 5 approximately 7.9 billion sticks, sold were illicit. Illicit trade remains prevalent in Malaysia due to its long coast lines, which allow for shipments to be sent from neighbouring nations, such as kreteks from Indonesia, into the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak (Rejab and Zain 2006). 6 Smugglers have also become increasingly more efficient in unloading, storing, and distributing smuggled cigarettes quickly in local villages whilst avoiding Customs officers. In Lahad Datu (Sabah), locals have become part of the problem, as they frequently purchase illicit cigarettes from illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia who openly pedal these goods out in the open in a thriving flea market full of smuggled illicit goods (New Straits Times 2013). 7 Lax law enforcement further facilitates the prevalence of illicit trade and smuggled goods in this area, as the sale of these illicit goods are responsible for sustaining the livelihood of these illegal immigrants. The low salaries of responsible law enforcement units are highlighted as a contributing factor to the lack of smuggled cigarette seizures. Rejab and Zain (2006) posit cigarette smugglers are notified before raids are conducted by Insiders in law enforcement, providing ample time to conceal shipments of illicit cigarettes. With less than 2% of all shipment containers checked upon arrival at ports (due to high volumes of containers), and low penalties for illicit smuggling, this issue will remain prevalent in Malaysia (and other countries with poor border control) as illicit cigarette smuggling continues to be seen as a lucrative, relatively low risk activity.

The implementation of the Plain Packaging Act of tobacco products in 2012 in Australia has sparked debate on its efficacy on reducing the incidence of smoking among youth. While some studies conclude that plain packaging will make cigarettes less attractive to youth, the American Legislative Exchange Council (representing tobacco companies) are currently campaigning against the sale of plain packaged cigarettes citing lack of evidence. 8 Tobacco organisations instead posit plain packaging will ease the ability of illegal tobacco manufacturers to replicate legitimate products resulting in higher incidences of illicit trade. While no other countries have implemented plain packaging yet, time will tell if this move will have positive or negative consequences in reducing youth and adult smoking. 9

Links to organized crime edit

Numerous reports, 10 1 11 have forged links between the illegal tobacco trade and organised crime groups, whom are attracted by high consumer demand, high potential profits, and relatively low potential penalties. In Malaysia, first time offence results in up to RM100,000 fine and a 3 year sentence with a RM200,000 fine and 6 year jail sentence for subsequent offences. Organised crime syndicates garner wide reach through diverse distribution channels in the form of small retailers and street vendors. While retailers may be charged in court if found to be in possession of cigarettes, it has been widely assumed that crime syndicates pay these fines in order to maintain cooperation with retailers, and sustain their distribution network. Beyond these traditional distribution channels, the World Customs Organization (2012) highlights that the resale of tobacco products on the Internet is being actively developed enabling greater reach, more discretion, and lesser chances of being caught. In 2012, French police disrupted this trend through deleting domain names of online trading sites selling tobacco products (WCO 2012).

Evidence suggests tobacco smuggling operations have been linked to terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which utilize these profits to finance terrorism around the world. 12 13 since the 1980s. The WCO Illicit Trade Report 2012 highlights the illicit tobacco trade represents a good opportunity for organized crime groups and/or terrorists to generate large sums of criminal profits. Billingslea (2004) 14 wrote, terrorist groups work with organized crime groups as well as International drug trafficking organisations due to their established trafficking routes and business contacts for the transfer of commodity for profit . He adds, known and suspected Hezbollah and Hamas members have established front companies and legitimate businesses in the cigarette trade in Central and South America. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) was one of the first groups to begin using cigarettes to fund their activities. Police estimate that the IRA made $100million in the past 5 years from trafficking illicit cigarettes. In the Middle East, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has known involvement in the trafficking of contraband cigarettes and tax stamps. The EU Commission report that the PKK has been smuggling American cigarettes into Iraq, which were then controlled by Saddam Hussein s son. The combined efforts from cigarette and oil smuggling was reported to have made Saddam Hussein as much as $2.7billion annually after 1991.

Most recently, 16 Palestinian men arrested due to a cigarette smuggling scheme in New York were found to have some ties to convicted terrorists. One criminal in particular, had known financial ties to Omar Abdel Rahman, a cleric serving a life sentence for a conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks. Others arrested also had ties to a top Hamas official.

Similarly in Hong Kong, police arrested 1,200 individuals from a wide range of gangs for drug trafficking, illegal possession of arms, and contraband cigarettes. Operation Thunderbolt, which aims to target triads in Hong Kong and neighboring provinces, has been successful in infiltrating various branches of the gang s operational networks.

The World Customs Organisation (2013) notes that while the number of illegal cigarette seizures has increased globally, the number of smuggling routes and channels continue to diversify accordingly. In Ireland, four men were recently caught transporting 9 million cigarettes with a retail value of 4.3 million, which arrived via sea freight from Malaysia. Police believe this shipment was destined for Ireland s largest smuggling gangs, who have also been involved in armed robberies and burglaries. In the United Kingdom, cigarette smuggling has become so increasingly profitable that smuggling syndicates have turned to bribing young women to smuggle cigarettes in exchange for free summer holidays. UK border officials have revealed that close to 50 million cigarettes are seized each month from girls as young as 15, who were given flights to Spain, accommodation and pocket money. Cigarette smuggling has since become one of Europe s fastest growing forms of organized crime, 15 and has been responsible for funding larger operations such as drug smuggling or people trafficking. South Africa faces similar problems with cigarette smuggling, as police report the sale of illegal cigarettes is bigger than drugs in South Africa. 16

Costs of illicit trade edit

The global scale of the illegal cigarette trade has reached an all time high, as governments are estimated to lose over USD50 billion 17 in global government revenues each year. A Euromonitor (2011) report estimates that there are 360 billion cigarettes consumed annually (excluding China), which accounts for 10% of the global market. Euromonitor (2013) reports black market sales of cigarettes rose for the 6th year in a row, although cigarette consumption in the EU fell by 5.7% in 2012 resulting in over 12 billion Euros in lost tax revenue. Illicit cigarette trade not only deprives the government of a key source of tax revenue, but also creates an imbalance in the market for legitimate industry players who operate within stringent regulations. In Asia Pacific (and globally) Malaysia ranks as the country with the highest share (45%) of illicit cigarettes in the total market, followed by Hong Kong (35%), and Pakistan (26.7%) in the Asian continent. 18 Altho
ugh illegal cigarettes have been associated with low income groups, its low price and accessibility also makes it attractive to smokers in general due to increasing tobacco taxes, and affordable for youths who have lower disposable income. Brunei illustrates a unique case globally, where 89.8%, or 315.2 million of cigarettes consumed are illicit (ITIC 2013). After the government s 339% excise duty application in 2010, cigarette prices hit $6.1 per pack, one of the highest in the Asia Pacific after Singapore and Australia. This resulted in the withdrawal of major international tobacco firms, and a tax loss of $63 million due to the proliferating illicit Atlas (2013) estimates that if illicit trade was eliminated, $31.3 billion in tax revenue would be gained, and 164,000 premature deaths would be avoided annually due to higher average cigarette prices. The WCO Illicit Trade Report 2012 recommends placing greater importance on information collection and sharing on a national and International level in order to develop strategies to respond to this threat.

Societal impacts of illicit trade edit Youth smoking edit

Costs of illicit trade also go beyond purely financial measures, with repercussions such as encouraging youth uptake of smoking, and increasing health risks for consumers, as illegal cigarettes are not bound by product and ingredient checks. Despite industry and government efforts to implement ID checks for tobacco sales to regulate availability, the prominence of illicit cigarette trade facilitates cigarette affordability for youth 19 with its lower than market price, and provision of easy channels for purchase in the form of small retailers and online. Internet sites have since become a core channel of distribution as it allows the selling and shipping of small quantities of cigarettes undetected by Customs Officials. 3 Numerous studies 20 3 also draw a direct link between the availability of cheap illicit cigarettes and the high youth smoking rates. In Canada, illegal cigarettes accounted for 17.5% of all cigarettes smoked by adolescents (Callaghan et al. 2009), with greater prevalence in Toronto and Quebec, where 22% of Canadian high school students regularly smoke illegal cigarettes (Callaghan et al. 2009). 21 The study adds illegal cigarettes were responsible for providing an accessible alternative to quitting, 22 and for youth in particular, encourages initiation and continuation of smoking over the long term. 21

Dangerous additives edit

The ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) warns counterfeit cigarettes were found to contain unsanitary ingredients (such as human feces, dead flies and mold), as well as a higher dosage of lethal substances in excess of legitimate cigarettes. Illicit cigarettes seized in Canada and the United Kingdom were found to contain five times more cadmium, six times as much lead, 160% more tar, and 133% more carbon dioxide. 4 Consumers are warned to take caution and avoid the temptation to save money by purchasing illegal cigarettes as it poses greater health risks compared to legal cigarettes.

Identifying illicit cigarettes edit

Below are some common indicators of illicit cigarette packs

  • The absence of pictorial health warnings
  • Poor detailing on cigarettes (print, spelling errors, inconsistent lettering)
  • Packs without domestic tax stamps or security marks
  • Packs with non domestic tax stamps
  • Unlisted importer or manufacturer
  • Unregistered brands
  • Pack sizes with less than 20 cigarettes
  • Unusual taste
  • Cheap price (below market average)

Below are some links to some visual examples


United Kingdom


Illicit trade around the world edit

Australia (2/10/2013) Australia loses $1.1 billion due to illegal cigarettes in 2012. The country s attempts to discourage smoking through higher taxes have instead fueled the illegal cigarette industry.

Chicago, USA (28/02/2013) Increase in illicit cigarette seizures as cigarette tax goes up $1 per pack.

Hong Kong (15/08/2013) Customs officers seized 1.3million illicit cigarettes (total market value of $3.3million with a duty potential of $2.2million) in electric water heaters in an industrial building.

Hong Kong (28/08/2012) Hong Kong Police arrest 1,200 suspects on charges ranging from drug trafficking, illegal possession of arms, drugs, and contraband cigarettes.

Ireland (17/09/2013) 9 million cigarettes with an estimated retail value of 4.3 million euros were seized when 4 men were caught transporting the shipment, which arrived at Dublin Port, from Malaysia. Police believe the cigarettes were destined for one of the country s largest smuggling gangs, which have also been involved in armed robberies and burglaries.

Madrid (21/06/2013) 16,500kg (worth 2 million Euros) of shredded tobacco was seized at an illegal cigarette factory located in an abandoned building in an industrial park.

Malaysia (1/10/2013) Malaysia records RM1.9 billion loss to illegal cigarettes in 2012.

Malaysia (19/03/2013) Locals at Lahad Datu help fuel demand for illicit goods through frequent purchase of illicit cigarettes from illegal immigrants in an open illegal goods flea market.

New York, USA (17/05/2013) 16 Palestinian men arrested in a scheme that may have generated $55 million in revenue from selling illicit cigarettes.

Ukraine (19/07/2012) Ukrainian smuggling tunnel contributes to human trafficking and illicit cigarettes in Slovakia.

United Kingdom (23/08/2013) Haul of illegal tobacco and cigarettes with a shop value of 415,000 seized from 10 storage units in Derby.

Anti illicit trade edit

World Health Organization (WHO) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products This multilateral treaty is aimed at combatting Illegal trade in tobacco products through controlling supply chain and international cooperation. Parties commit to establishing tracking and tracing system to reduce, with aims to eradicate, illicit trade. The Protocol has been signed by representatives of all 6 WHO regions. /

Get Some Answers (United Kingdom) This website created by The North England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, aims to inform and increase awareness of illegal tobacco, its impact, and consequences. The website provides forums for discussion, link to Crime Stoppers to share information, and link to National Health Service (NHS) for individuals who want to quit smoking.

Retailers Against Smuggling (Ireland) This body was established in 2009 by Irish retailers to fight against illicit tobacco trade through raising awareness about the effects of illicit tobacco on retailers, liaising with relevant law enforcement authorities, and campaigning for legislative reform and extra law enforcement resources. /

Contraband Enforcement Strategy (Canada) The Royal Canadian Mounted Police aims to nationally reduce the availability of, and decrease the demand for contraband tobacco through working with youth to prevent involvement in crimes as an offender or victim. This published report prioritises reducing the threat of criminal terrorist activity in Canada through effectively addressing contraband activities, disrupting organized crime groups, and enhancing intelligence gathering and sharing.

Rokok Tak Sah (Malaysia) Launched by Royal Malaysian Customs, this campaign is aimed at educating retailers and the public about the penalties of buying and selling illicit cigarettes. Brochures and newspaper advertisements were deployed to raise awareness of how to identify illegal cigarettes. Customs officers also increased enforcement efforts to seize illegal cigarettes and fine retailers facilitating sales to the public. /

Don t Get Burnt (Singapore) This campaign by Singapore Customs seeks to warn the public about the dangers and stiff penalties for activities involving il
licit tobacco trade. The campaign encourages citizens to report illegal activities and educates the public about identifying illegal cigarettes through radio networks, cable television, outdoor and print advertisements, roadshows and community engagement. Efforts resulted in a 30.4% decrease in the number of illegal cigarette buyers caught.

Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco (2013) This movement aims to consolidate opposition to illicit trade, educate the public to move the issue up the government s priority list, and sell the public on the idea that illicit tobacco only benefits criminals. /?page id 2&lang en

Stop Illegal Cigarettes (South Africa) This campaign, backed by the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, comprises tobacco industries working together to tackle illegal cigarette trade among retailers and increasing consumer awareness.

References edit

Menthol cigarettes

Wal-mart will stop selling cigarettes — it’s only a matter of time

Menthol is a substance naturally found in mint plants such as peppermint and spearmint. It gives a cooling sensation and is frequently used to relieve minor pain and irritation and to prevent infection 1 .

Which tobacco products contain menthol?

Menthol is found in cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, smokeless tobacco products, and tobacco rolling paper.

How much menthol is found in cigarettes?

About 90% of cigarettes marketed in the United States contain menthol, even if they are not advertised as menthol cigarettes. Only cigarettes containing a certain amount of menthol (0.1% to 0.45% of the tobacco filler weight) are marketed and advertised as menthol cigarettes 2 .

What are some common menthol cigarette brands?

Some common cigarette brands that are only made in menthol flavor include Kool, Newport, and Salem 3 . Other brands of menthol and non menthol cigarettes include Doral, Virginia Slims, Marlboro, and Camel 3, 4 .

Of all menthol and non menthol cigarettes, Marlboro is the brand used most often by 42.2% of smokers 5 . Newport is second (11.3%), followed by Camel (7.5%), Basic (4.2%), Doral (3.1%), Kool (2.9%), Parliament (2.0%), Salem (1.9%), and USA Gold (1.9%) 5 .

How long has menthol been a cigarette additive?

Menthol was first added to cigarettes during the 1920s. Spud was the first cigarette brand to add menthol 6 .

What is the difference between menthol and non menthol cigarettes?

Aside from the amount of menthol added, we need more research to understand the main differences between these cigarette types and how they are harmful to your health.

Is it safer to smoke a menthol cigarette than a non menthol cigarette?

No. All cigarettes are harmful, including menthol cigarettes. Many smokers think menthol cigarettes are less harmful, but there is no evidence that menthol cigarettes are safer than other cigarettes. Like other cigarettes, menthol cigarettes harm nearly every organ in the body and cause many diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases. Menthol cigarettes, like other cigarettes, also negatively impact male and female fertility and are harmful to pregnant women and their unborn babies 7 .

Do menthol cigarettes contain fiberglass?

There is no evidence to suggest that fiberglass (used to make car parts) is in menthol cigarettes. However, there are more than 7,000 known chemical compounds, as well as toxic and carcinogenic agents, in tobacco and cigarette smoke 8 . Some of these include ammonia (used in fertilizer and household cleaning products), formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), and methanol (used in antifreeze). All of these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer and other deadly diseases 9 .

Are menthol cigarettes more addictive than non menthol cigarettes?

Some research shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non menthol cigarettes 10 12 . More research is needed to understand how addiction differs between menthol and non menthol cigarette use.

Who smokes menthol cigarettes?

An estimated 43.8 million people, or 19.0% of all adults (aged 18 years or older), in the United States smoke cigarettes 13 . Approximately one out of every four cigarettes sold in the United States has the descriptor menthol on the cigarette pack. Menthol cigarettes are disproportionately smoked by certain groups, such as adolescents, African Americans, adult females, and families with lower income. The following trends in the use of menthol cigarettes can be seen among youth and adult smokers 25


  • From 2004 to 2008, almost half of adolescent smokers aged 12 to 17 years reported smoking menthol cigarettes (approximately 1 million adolescents).
  • Adolescent smokers are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than older smokers (44.8% among adolescents, 36.5% among young adults aged 18 to 25 years, and 30.1% among older adults).
  • Very high proportions of black/African American adolescents smoke menthol cigarettes. In 2008, about 7 out of 10 (71.9%) adolescent African American smokers reported smoking menthol cigarettes. However, this is significantly lower than the 82.7% (about 8 out of 10) of African American adult smokers who reported smoking menthol cigarettes in 2008.
  • While the prevalence of smoking among adolescents declined from 1997 to 2007 (36.4% to 20%), the percentage of adolescent smokers smoking menthol cigarettes increased from 2004 to 2008 (43.4% to 48.3%).


  • About 3 out of 10 adult cigarette smokers reported smoking a menthol brand.
  • Young adult smokers aged 18 to 25 years are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes (36.5%) than adults 26 years and older (30.1%). However, the proportion of menthol cigarette smokers in both groups increased from 2004 to 2008.
  • Almost half of adult menthol cigarette smokers are from minority racial/ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders.
  • Female adult smokers are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than male adult smokers. However, there is no significant gender difference among adolescent menthol smokers.
  • Adult smokers with family incomes of less than $50,000 were more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than adult smokers with higher family incomes.

Why do people smoke menthol cigarettes?

In the past, the tobacco industry has marketed menthol cigarettes as being a “healthier” and “safer” cigarette, emphasizing its cool and refreshing taste 16 . The tobacco industry has targeted “beginner” smokers and current smokers with health concerns 16 . Many people choose menthol cigarettes because of beliefs about menthol cigarettes being safer than non menthol cigarettes. However, no evidence exists indicating that menthol cigarettes are safer. All cigarette smoking is linked to many cancers and other diseases.

How has the tobacco industry marketed and encouraged people to smoke menthol cigarettes?

In the past, the tobacco industry has actively marketed menthol cigarettes to consumers under a concept of “coolness,” with messages of fresh/refreshing taste and sensation, youthfulness, fun, and healthful effects 17 . Advertisements often showed nature, coldness, springtime, water, and other refreshing qualities 17 .

Does the tobacco industry market menthol cigarettes to anyone in particular?

Yes. Studies and evidence from tobacco industry documents showed that, in the past, the tobacco industry has a history of marketing menthol cigarettes to women, youth, and minority racial/ethnic groups, including African Americans/blacks, Latinos/Hispanics, and Asian Americans 16, 18, 19 .

Research suggests that African American/blacks may be the most directly targeted group of menthol smokers 18, 19 .

How much of the tobacco industry sales come from menthol cigarettes?

Historically, about 27% of the tobacco industry’s total sales have come from menthol cigarettes 20 . In 2006, however, menthol accounted for only 20% of the total sales, representing a notable decline for the first time in over 40 years 21 .

Is menthol in other products?

Yes. Menthol is added to many other products, including

  • Lozenges
  • Syrups
  • Creams/ointments
  • Nasal sprays
  • Powders
  • Candy

Menthol is generally used in small amounts to temporarily relieve throat irritations and coughs from colds or inhaled irritants 22 . But keep in mind that none of these products are ignited or smoked when used.

Does the FDA regulate menthol in other products?

Yes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the menthol concentration in other products, including lozenges, shampoos, and ointments 23, 24 .

The FDA also mandates that warning labels be placed on cold medications, including those that contain menthol, indicating that continued use may hide the early warning symptoms of more serious conditions 22 . However, it is important to note that there is a difference between using products containing menthol that are approved as safe and effe
ctive by the FDA and products containing menthol that are ignited or smoked.

Does the FDA regulate menthol in cigarettes?

No, the FDA does not regulate menthol in cigarettes at this time. On June 22, 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. Section 907 banned the use of specific flavors in cigarettes, such as herbs, spices, strawberry, and grape, but it did not ban menthol 25 . However, in 2011, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee issued a report on the impact of menthol in cigarettes on public health, and the FDA is considering the possibility of regulating menthol.

Where can I find more information on menthol cigarettes?

  • Executive Summary of the First Menthol Conference
  • CDC Smoking & Tobacco Use Database

Please email the NCI Smokefree Team if you have additional questions ncismokefreeteam


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