Menthol cigarette ban: Why menthol cigarettes are banned in the UK

Young women enjoying a smoke-free life

On Wednesday the 20th of May 2020, it became illegal to buy menthol cigarettes in the UK. First developed in 19241, menthol cigarettes have long been a feature of the cigarette market. However, this long history looks set to come to an end, as the ban on menthol cigarettes closes the final chapter.

If you’re a fan of menthol cigarettes, you may be wondering how the menthol cigarette ban will affect you.

Here, we’ll answer the big questions you might have about the menthol cigarette ban. We’ll explain why menthol cigarettes have been banned, and what the ban might mean for you.

As the ban aims to reduce the number of smokers in the UK, we’ll also look at the impact the ban might have on menthol cigarette smokers. Will it really stop people taking up smoking? And, could it give current smokers a nudge to start their quitting journey?

When were menthol cigarettes banned in the UK?

The ban for Menthol cigarettes came into force on the 20th of May2.

However, as shops could not sell menthol cigarettes from the 20th of May onwards, you might have found some shops had run out of menthol cigarettes even before the ban came legally into force.

The new laws on menthol cigarettes are also applied uniformly across the different countries of the UK. This means there will be no difference between the ban on menthol cigarettes in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland3. So there will be no opportunity to pop across the border to stock-up.

Why are menthol cigarettes banned?

The menthol cigarette ban is part of an initiative by the European Union (EU) to protect people from the harmful effects of tobacco.

In the EU, tobacco consumption is the ‘single largest avoidable health risk’, and the ‘most significant cause of premature death4. It is responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year and around 50% of smokers die prematurely (on average 14 years earlier than non-smokers)4.

As a response, the EU put together a piece of legislation called the ‘Tobacco Product Directive’. This legislation was designed to help create a consistent EU wide approach to tackling smoking. A focus of the legislation was on discouraging young people taking up smoking or helping them to quit, with 93% of smokers starting to smoke before they turn 264.

Products that are linked with taking up smoking by young people, and encouraging them to keep smoking, therefore found themselves in the firing line. This included products that modify the smell/taste of the cigarettes to mask tobacco, such as menthol cigarettes5.

It is important to note, the EU’s ‘Tobacco Product Directive’ was adopted back in 2014. It was then placed into British law through the The Tobacco and Related Products regulations in 2016. This means the legislation still applies in the UK even though the UK has left the EU.

In fact, you’ve probably seen some of the impacts of the EU’s ‘Tobacco Product Directive’. Larger warning messages on labels and a ban on smaller cigarette pack sizes, were all part of the same piece of legislation, and have already been implemented6.

The Menthol Cigarette ban is the last part of the directive to come into force6. This was designed to give time for producers and consumers to adapt to the new rules.

What impact will the ban on menthol cigarettes have on smokers?

The most obvious impact the ban on menthol cigarettes will have, is that it is no longer possible to buy menthol cigarettes in the UK.

As the ban is EU wide, you’ll also be unlikely to find menthol cigarettes when travelling to EU countries.

However, as tobacco kills up to half of its users and more than 8 million people a year die globally as a result of direct or second-hand tobacco use, how effective will the ban be in meeting its goal of protecting people from the harmful effects of tobacco?

To answer this question, it is important to note that it is a common misconception that menthol cigarettes are “lighter on the throat” and are therefore in some way healthier7. Research shows that menthol cigarettes can be just as dangerous as normal cigarettes8. So, any reduction in smoking, whether menthol or non-mentholated cigarettes, would be associated with a positive health impact.

Menthol cigarettes have also been linked with greater risks in young smokers. One study reports that young menthol smokers smoke more cigarettes and report their intent to continue smoking in the next year more frequently than non-menthol smokers9.

Another study suggests that young people who smoke menthol cigarettes are thought to be 80% more likely to become life-long smokers than those who smoke regular cigarettes10.

This research suggests that a ban on menthol cigarettes would be likely to be connected with a reduction in smoking. This reduction would be felt especially amongst young people who smoke menthol cigarettes. Reducing both the amount of cigarettes they smoke and decreasing the chance of them becoming life-long smokers.

Could the ban on menthol cigarettes help people quit?

There has been research that suggests a ban of menthol cigarettes could also help encourage users to quit smoking.

Research has found that 65.7% of young adult menthol smokers stated they would quit smoking if menthol cigarettes were no longer sold11.

Another study, published by the American Medical Association, reviewed the province of Ontario in Canada’s ban of menthol cigarettes. It found that the ban substantially increased attempts to quit smoking. 29.1% of menthol cigarette users who took part in the study attempted to quit shortly after the ban came into force12.

This provides evidence that a ban on menthol cigarettes could help nudge smokers to quit smoking. This could be similar to the success of other campaigns that promote a break from smoking, such as ‘No smoking Day’13 and ‘Stoptober’14. If you are a menthol cigarette smoker, the ban on menthol cigarettes could be a great opportunity to start your own quitting journey.

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