Menthol Cigarette Use Persists in the UK Despite 2020 Ban Study Shows

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Despite a ban on menthol-flavoured cigarettes in the UK since 2020, a significant number of British smokers continue to use them, a study reveals. Conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL) and published in the Tobacco Control journal, the study found that 16% of adult smokers, nearly one million individuals, were using menthol-flavoured cigarettes as of October 2020.

This figure slightly decreased to 14% by March 2023, according to the survey responses of 66,868 adults across England, Wales, and Scotland, partially funded by Cancer Research UK. Menthol cigarettes, known for their smoother taste and easier inhalation, were prohibited in May 2020 to deter young individuals from starting smoking, told Yahoo.

The ban targeted cigarettes with a distinct flavor but did not extend to menthol or its derivatives as additives in cigarettes or related products. The study indicates that only about 15% of menthol cigarette users purchased them from illicit sources, such as unofficial sales or through acquaintances, a rate comparable to those smoking non-menthol cigarettes.

For an effective ban, menthol and all its analogs and derivatives should be completely prohibited in all tobacco-related products and accessories

PROFESSOR JAMIE BROWN, SENIOR AUTHOR

The majority of menthol smokers likely turned to legal alternatives, such as menthol-flavored drops, filter balls, or cards, or bought cigarettes that they perceived to contain menthol without explicit labeling. This data was gleaned from the Smoking Toolkit Study, which interviews a fresh cohort of 2,450 adults monthly.

Among younger smokers, the study noted a significant decline in menthol cigarette usage, dropping by a quarter from 26% to 19%. However, this still implies that about one in five young adults aged 18 to 24 continued to smoke menthol-flavoured cigarettes into early 2023. The pattern of purchasing cigarettes, whether menthol-flavored or not, from illicit or cross-border sources remained consistent, debunking industry predictions of a surge in illegal cigarette sales due to tobacco control measures.

Professor Jamie Brown from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and the study’s senior author, commented on the ineffectiveness of the UK’s menthol ban, noting the static number of menthol cigarette smokers three years post-ban. He advocated for a more comprehensive ban that would include menthol and all its derivatives in all tobacco products and accessories.

These findings show why it’s vital that measures to tackle smoking don’t contain legal loopholes which can be exploited by the tobacco industry

DR IAN WALKER, CANCER RESEARCH UK

Dr. Ian Walker of Cancer Research UK highlighted the grave implications of continued menthol cigarette smoking, given smoking’s status as the leading cause of cancer in the UK. He stressed the importance of closing legal loopholes that the tobacco industry might exploit and supported government plans to increase the legal age for tobacco sales, aiming to prevent future generations from taking up smoking.

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