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Global Trend: Why Numerous Countries Are Outlawing Menthol Cigarettes

Global Shift in Tobacco Control: Understanding the Menthol Cigarette Ban

Amidst the global trend of banning menthol cigarettes, the issue has recently gained renewed attention in the United States. Civil rights groups and public health organisations are urging the Biden administration to expedite the implementation of a menthol cigarette ban. 

In the international arena, several countries have already implemented bans on menthol cigarettes, showcasing a proactive approach to tobacco control.

The Rationale Behind the Ban

The rationale for the global ban on menthol cigarettes is grounded in substantial evidence highlighting their unique public health risks. Menthol, with its cooling and soothing properties, can mask the harshness of cigarette smoke. This makes it more appealing, especially for new and young smokers. This significantly lowers the barrier for initiating smoking. In doing so, contributing to higher rates of tobacco addiction among adolescents.

Globally, smoking prevalence has declined from 22.7% in 2007 to 17% in 2021. However, the total number of smokers remains high due to population growth.  At least 940 million males and 193 million females ages 15 or older are current smokers as of 2019. The decline in smoking prevalence is evident in many countries, but it has either stalled or increased in several regions. 

Research has consistently shown that menthol cigarettes are more addictive than regular cigarettes. For instance, a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that menthol smokers are less likely to quit than non-menthol smokers, suggesting a higher level of dependency. Additionally, menthol’s interaction with nicotine enhances its addictive properties.

Another critical aspect is the misconception that menthol cigarettes are safer than non-menthol cigarettes. This myth, perpetuated in part by tobacco marketing strategies, has been debunked by multiple studies. Despite their ‘milder’ taste, menthol cigarettes are just as harmful, if not more, due to deeper inhalation patterns encouraged by the cooling effect of menthol.

Furthermore, the targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes towards African American communities in the U.S. has been a significant concern, contributing to health disparities. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted that a disproportionately high number of African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes, leading to higher rates of smoking-related illnesses in these communities​​.

The rationale for the ban is, therefore, to reduce the appeal of cigarettes to potential new smokers, particularly the youth, and to address the higher addiction rates and health disparities associated with menthol cigarette use.

Global Responses and Health Perspectives

Countries around the world have been responding to the health risks associated with menthol cigarettes by implementing bans. These bans are seen as vital steps in reducing the initiation of smoking. Especially among young people, as well as addressing the higher addiction rates linked to menthol cigarettes.

The European Union’s ban on menthol cigarettes, effective from May 2020, was a significant move in tobacco control within the region. This decision was influenced by concerns over the appealing nature of menthol cigarettes to younger individuals and their potential role in hindering smoking cessation efforts.

In Canada, where a ban on menthol cigarettes was implemented in 2017, the government aimed to curb the rising rates of youth smoking. This move was part of a broader strategy to reduce tobacco use among young Canadians and to address public health concerns associated with smoking.

In Asia, countries like Singapore and Thailand have also taken steps to control menthol cigarettes. Singapore, recognising the substantial market share of menthol cigarettes and their appeal to young smokers, has been considering a comprehensive ban on all flavoured tobacco products, including menthols. Thailand implemented a ban on menthol cigarettes in 2019 as part of its efforts to combat increasing smoking rates and promote public health.

These bans represent a growing recognition of the unique dangers posed by menthol cigarettes and reflect a commitment to public health. Health experts globally argue that removing these products from the market could significantly reduce the number of people taking up smoking, particularly among the youth, and help in the fight against tobacco-related diseases.

Impact on Smokers and the Tobacco Industry

The impact of banning menthol cigarettes has both health and economic dimensions. From a health perspective, a study focusing on New York City projected that a menthol cigarette ban could prevent thousands of cases of myocardial infarction and stroke over a 20-year period. It also suggested substantial savings in healthcare costs due to the reduction in cardiovascular diseases. This was especially so among women and Black individuals. This indicates that the ban could not only improve overall public health but also address certain health disparities​​.

Economically, the implications of a menthol cigarette ban are significant, especially in terms of government revenue. A federal ban on menthol cigarettes in the United States could lead to a loss of more than $6.6 billion in the first year following the prohibition. This includes a decrease in federal and state excise taxes, sales tax revenue, and payments from the Master Settlement Agreement. The size of the market for menthol cigarettes varies by state. The product makes up approximately 36% of the market in the U.S. When Massachusetts implemented a ban, there was a notable shift of sales to neighbouring states, resulting in a stable level of consumption but a substantial decline in tobacco tax revenue for the state. Such dynamics highlight the complex interplay between public health goals and economic considerations in the context of tobacco control policies​​.

These findings highlight the need for comprehensive strategies when implementing such bans, considering not only the public health benefits but also the potential economic impacts and the need for effective enforcement to mitigate unintended consequences, like increased illicit trade.

Looking Forward

The ban on menthol cigarettes is a bold step in tobacco control, reflecting a commitment to public health over commercial interests. As countries around the world continue to implement and enforce this ban, it will be crucial to monitor its impact on smoking rates and public health outcomes.

References

  1. Global Smoking Rates and Statistics | Tobacco Atlas. (2023, October 26). Tobacco Atlas. https://tobaccoatlas.org/challenges/prevalence/
  2. Menthol Smoking and Related Health Disparities. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/menthol/related-health-disparities.html
  3. Van Der Eijk, Y. (2022, August 5). Commentary: The days of smoking cigarettes are numbered in Singapore. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/smoking-tobacco-free-generation-law-cigarette-quit-2858276
  4. Van Der Eijk, Y. (2022, September 1). Ban on flavoured cigarettes could curb youth smoking in Singapore. TODAY. https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/ban-flavoured-cigarettes-could-curb-youth-smoking-here
  5. Li, Y., Sisti, J., Flórez, K. R., Albrecht, S. S., Viswanath, A., Davila, M., Cantrell, J., Brahmbhatt, D., Thompson, A. B., Jasek, J., & Chambers, E. C. (2021, November 9). Assessing the Health and Economic Impact of a Potential Menthol Cigarette Ban in New York City: a Modeling Study. Journal of Urban Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-021-00581-8
  6. F., & F. (2023, November 20). Federal Menthol Cigarette Ban May Cost Governments $6.6 Billion. Tax Foundation. https://taxfoundation.org/blog/federal-menthol-cigarette-ban/

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