High rates of menthol cigarette use among pregnant smokers: Preliminary findings and call for future research

Laura R. Stroud, Chrystal Vergara-Lopez, Meaghan McCallum, Allison E. Gaffey, Alana Corey, Raymond Niaura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Smoking during pregnancy remains widespread and is causally associated with infant morbidity and mortality. Despite links between menthol cigarette use and decreased smoking cessation, little is known regarding rates or characteristics of pregnant menthol cigarette smokers.

METHODS: Participants were drawn from two low-income, racially/ethnically diverse cohorts of pregnant smokers recruited from 2006 to 2015 (N = 166, Mage = 25 ± 5). Demographics, menthol cigarette use, daily cigarette use, quit status, and consecutive weeks quit were assessed by prospective interviews. Nicotine dependence was assessed using the Fagerström Test of Nicotine Dependence. Nicotine levels were assessed via saliva cotinine.

RESULTS: High rates of menthol use were found in both cohorts (85% and 87%). Across both cohorts, menthol smokers were more likely to identify as racial/ethnic minorities, were less educated, and reported lower income than non-menthol smokers (ps < .03). Menthol smokers also reported fewer continuous weeks quit (8.4 vs. 14.5 weeks quit; p < .03) and a tendency toward decreased likelihood of quitting smoking over pregnancy (29% vs. 48%; p < .08) in unadjusted but not in covariate-adjusted analyses. No differences emerged in cigarettes per day, nicotine dependence or nicotine exposure.

CONCLUSIONS: We found very high rates of menthol cigarette use in pregnant smokers-particularly among racial/ethnic minority and low socioeconomic status smokers-and some evidence for associations with reduced smoking cessation in pregnancy. Consideration of pregnant smokers as a uniquely vulnerable population is warranted in evaluating regulation of menthol in cigarettes. Further research is needed regarding the impact of menthol on smoking persistence in pregnancy and on maternal and infant health outcomes.

IMPLICATIONS: This study highlights high rates of menthol cigarette use in pregnant women in the Northeast, United States, with evidence for higher rates of menthol use among racial/ethnic minority, less educated and low-income pregnant smokers, and preliminary evidence for associations between menthol cigarette use and reduced smoking cessation. Consideration of the effects of menthol on smoking persistence in pregnant women and on the health of their offspring is warranted in the development of regulations regarding menthol in cigarettes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1711-1717
Number of pages7
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ethnicity/psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menthol/analysis
  • Nicotine/administration & dosage
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Smokers/psychology
  • Smoking/epidemiology
  • Smoking Cessation/ethnology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder/epidemiology
  • United States/epidemiology
  • Young Adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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