WASHINGTON — Tobacco companies deliberately changed the menthol levels in cigarettes depending on their target markets -- lower levels for young smokers who preferred the milder brands and higher levels to "lock in lifelong adult smokers," researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found.
The researchers reviewed industry documents dating back decades on product development and on strategic plans for menthol products.
They said that the tobacco companies researched how controlling menthol levels could increase sales among specific groups. Milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers. The milder products were then marketed to young consumers.
One document from R.J. Reynolds noted that all three major menthol brands "built their franchise with YAS [younger adult smokers] . . . using a low-menthol product strategy. However, as smokers acclimate to menthol, their demand for menthol increases over time."
Philip-Morris USA used a two-prong strategy to increase Marlboro's share of the menthol market by targeting young adults and older smokers, the researchers concluded.
William Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, said the study's conclusions were not supported by the facts cited.
He said the study includes excerpts from several marketing documents. None talked about targeting youth or adolescents.