Smokers have more trouble trying to quit if they favor menthol cigarettes, according to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Health officials estimate that more than 400,000 Americans die of smoking-related diseased every year.
Now, researchers suggest that smoking menthol cigarettes could make quitting even harder than it already is.
Menthol and non-menthol cigarettes are both dangerous to the heart and lungs, but menthol cigarettes may be harder to quit smoking, officials say.
Menthol is a mint-flavoring that comes from peppermint oil. African-Americans smoke more menthol cigarettes than White Americans.
Experts have thought that menthol might make tobacco smoke even more dangerous. If that were true, and menthol cigarettes were more harmful than non-menthol cigarettes, it might explain why African-Americans have higher rates of heart disease, cancer and other smoking-related illnesses even though they smoke less overall.
Now this study suggests that menthol cigarettes are more dangerous because they are harder to quit than non-menthol cigarettes.
Some experts say this finding illustrates "one more example of the truly immoral and disturbing behavior of the tobacco industry," said Dr. Michael Fiore, director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin Medical School.
"The tobacco industry has effectively targeted certain racial or ethnic groups with certain types of cigarettes," said Fiore.
"The industry has definitely targeted African Americans with menthol cigarettes," he added.
And, the longer you smoke, the more damage that smoke can do to you heart, lungs, and body.
The study was a joint venture between six institutions, including the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
The study looked at smokers who had been recruited in 1985 for the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study (CARDIA).
The CARDIA study is a long-term study of heart disease risk factors in more than 5,000 men and women.
All study participants had a medical exam and answered questions about their demographics and smoking habits when the study began 1985 and again two, five, seven, 10 and 15 years later.
Of the 5,000 people in the CARDIA study, more than 1,500 were smokers when the study began.
Sixty-three percent of those smokers said they preferred menthol cigarettes, with blacks more likely to prefer menthol, than whites. Eighty-nine percent of African American smokers preferred menthols compared to 29 percent of European American smokers.
Researchers found that menthol cigarettes are not necessarily more dangerous than non-menthol cigarettes, but that menthols are harder to quit.
Those smokers who preferred menthol cigarettes were less likely to have quit smoking after 15 years.
By the year 2000, 15 years after the CARDIA study began, 69 percent of the menthol smokers were still smoking, compared to 54 percent of the people who had originally preferred non-menthol cigarettes.
Menthol smokers were also more likely to relapse after successfully quitting. Researchers think menthol works through a variety of biological pathways in the body and brain--and that these biological actions might make menthol cigarettes harder to kick.
The researchers suggest that switching from menthol to non-menthol cigarettes might make it easier to stop smoking, but that does not mean that non-menthol cigarettes are somehow safe.
Any kind of cigarette smoking is still highly addictive and harmful.