Menthol Lessens Irritation from Cigarette Smoke
Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D.
NIEHS Grant R01ES015056
An NIEHS-supported study has shown that menthol, the cooling agent in peppermint, counteracts the irritating effects of cigarette smoke constituents. Menthol is added to most commercially sold cigarettes.
The researchers studied acrolein, acetic acid, and cyclohexanone, which are irritating components of cigarette smoke that vary widely in their chemical structure and biological properties. Using a mouse model of human sensory irritant sensitivity, the investigators found that the sensation of irritation was suppressed immediately in mice that inhaled the irritants and menthol at a concentration less than would be present in smoke from menthol cigarettes. When menthol was absent, the mice had more difficulty inhaling the irritants and exhibited more lung irritation. The experiments demonstrated that menthol’s counterirritant effects resulted from activation of the chemical receptor TRPM8.
By suppressing reactions such as coughing, menthol could increase the amount of smoke inhaled and thus promote addiction to nicotine. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act banned flavored tobacco additives but exempted menthol while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration evaluated scientific data.
Citation: Willis DN, Liu B, Ha MA, Jordt SE, Morris JB. 2011. Menthol attenuates respiratory irritation responses to multiple cigarette smoke irritants. FASEB J 25(12):4434-4444.
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