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Study: Menthol Smokers Double Stroke Risk

No evidence they increase other health risks

New research links menthol cigarettes with a higher risk of stroke but does not explain the reason for it.
New research links menthol cigarettes with a higher risk of stroke but does not explain the reason for it.
Art Chimes

People who smoke menthol cigarettes have a much higher risk of stroke than those who smoke regular cigarettes, according to a new study.

"Current mentholated cigarette smokers have an over two times greater risk of having stroke," says Nicholas Vozoris, a Canadian scientist who conducted the research. "And particularly driving this association were women and non-African Americans."

Vozoris is a clinical associate at Saint Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and his study used data from more than 5,000 smokers in a U.S. government survey.

The World Health Organization says tobacco kills six million people a year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking causes more than 80 percent of lung cancer deaths and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found little if any extra risk for menthol cigarette smokers for other ailments, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and the lung disease known as COPD.

Vozoris says other scientists have studied how menthol affects the body, and they found that it acts to increase the length of each inhalation of toxic cigarette smoke. But that doesn't explain why menthol affects stroke risk in particular. One possible explanation emerges from recent studies in Turkey, which found that both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes decreased blood flow through the heart.

"But in the carotid arteries, which are the blood vessels providing blood to the brain, the mentholated cigarettes negatively affected the blood vessels there more than non-mentholated cigarettes," Vozoris says.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a good cigarette, he adds, they're all bad for you. But his study suggests that, at least in some respects, some may be worse than others.

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