Menthol Cigarettes In California

Objectives: To describe advertising, promotions, and pack prices for the leading brands of menthol and nonmenthol cheap cigarettes near California high schools and to examine their associations with school and neighborhood demographics.

Methods: In stores (n = 407) within walking distance (0.8 km [1/2 mile]) of California high schools (n = 91), trained observers counted ads for menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes and collected data about promotions and prices for Newport and Marlboro, the leading brand in each category. Multilevel modeling examined the proportion of all cigarette advertising for any menthol brand, the proportion of stores with sales promotions, and the lowest advertised pack price in relation to store types and school/neighborhood demographics.

Results: For each 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of Black students, the proportion of menthol advertising increased by 5.9 percentage points (e.g., from an average of 25.7%–31.6%), the odds of a Newport promotion were 50% higher (95% CI = 1.01, 2.22), and the cost of Newport was 12 cents lower (95% CI = −0.18, −0.06). By comparison, the odds of a promotion and the price for Marlboro, the leading brand of nonmenthol cigarettes, were unrelated to any school or neighborhood demographics.

Conclusions: In high school neighborhoods, targeted advertising exposes Blacks to more promotions and lower prices for the leading brand of menthol cigarettes. This evidence contradicts the manufacturer’s claims that the availability of its promotions is not based on race/ethnicity. It also highlights the need for cheap smokes control policies that would limit disparities in exposure to retail marketing for cigarettes.