Menthol cigarettes have been a staple product in the UK tobacco industry since the 1920s, with an estimated 890,000 people claiming these as their main form of cigarettes. With this in mind, a huge proportion of people are essentially being left out in the cold once the ban has commenced. Obviously the government introduced this measure to help boost the hopeful target of becoming a smoke-free nation by 2030, however it’s extremely speculative to expect all of these people to give up nicotine straight away.
As a result, what the ban could see is an increase in interest and stature for the vape industry, with menthol being one of the most popular flavour choices in the UK. Apart from vaping, the only alternative option, other than quitting altogether, would be for menthol smokers to turn to standard cigarettes. With many public health organisations, such as NHS, PHE and Cancer Research, advocating for the use of vaping when quitting smoking, could we see an already thriving industry grow larger and noticeably curb smoking habits for the masses?
In Europe, the UK is the most prevalent nation in terms of menthol smokers, constituting 12.4% of all smokers, next to Poland on 10.2% and Romania on 7.8%. Ahead of the ban, Vape Club conducted a survey asking menthol smokers a series of questions regarding if they were aware of the ban and what they plan to do next. The results were a good indicator of the implications that the menthol ban will induce and just how successful it will be.
Despite the ban’s relatively low profile in terms of marketing and advertising, as many as 99% of respondents were aware of the ban coming into place ahead of the expected date. Rather unsurprising, however, was that 56% of menthol smokers plan to continue to smoke through standard unflavoured cigarettes and rolling tobacco. This equates to approximately half a million people, which is a huge sum of people expected to prolong smoking habits. As well as this, 5.4% are estimated to stockpile menthol tobacco product supplies, which although is likely to be a short term solution, it ultimately delays the inevitable for a while and begs the question as to what they will do when they eventually run out?.
When asked what their next steps will be, 18% of menthol smokers advised that they would use vaping as a way of quitting smoking. This is approximately 160,000 smokers switching to vaping in a short space of time. With the average spend of a vaper equating to £540 per year, this could provide a substantial elevation for an industry which is already expected to rise in global value to over $29 billion by 2022.
As well as this, the survey shows that including those who plan to take up vaping, almost 40% of menthol smokers intend to quit smoking come the 20th of May. A further 10% of menthol cigarette users will attempt to quit by simply going cold turkey, whilst 5% will use NRTs (nicotine replacement therapies), such as gum or patches. Furthermore, it was also found that an estimated 300,000 people are presently quitting due to the emergence of COVID-19. With the need to quit strengthened due to the deadly virus, which has drastically changed virtually everyone’s lifestyle, 29% of smokers claim they are planning to quit in the wake of the pandemic. This could result in a possible 2.6 million fewer smokers in the UK, which would provide a monumental hike for the government’s 2030 smoke-free target.
More To Be Done
Whilst the ban could deliver many positives for public health, it does somewhat push aside a huge number of smokers with no recommended solution other than to just quit. Many ex-smokers will talk of the difficulty in quitting smoking, and with an outright ban on a popular and established tobacco product, plenty of menthol smokers will feel somewhat shunned and neglected.
In hindsight, there should’ve been more promotional material released by the government and public health organisations outlining the next steps for menthol smokers to take, including quitting through NRT, counselling and services, vaping and by going cold turkey. Despite the resounding support from PHE, NHS, Cancer Research and many other respected public health organisations, the government have been lacklustre in promoting vaping as a harm reduction alternative for smokers. This is especially disheartening in that vaping is proven to be at least twice as effective as NRT for successfully quitting. This could’ve aided a huge amount of people in achieving a healthier lifestyle through education, care and attention, which the menthol ban heavily misses out on.
Moreover, the trouble with blanket bans on particular products is that a surge in criminal activity increases in likelihood, with many menthol smokers likely to purchase bootleg menthol cigarettes from overseas and turn to the black market. It would’ve been beneficial for the vape industry and the UK government to set up a co-operative initiative prior to the ban, which possibly could’ve seen a positive reflection in statistics and attitude before and after the ban commenced.
It’s been left for vape companies and distributors to create their own supplementary material outlining the ban and what next, which whilst commendable, could’ve gone a long way further through collaboration with authoritative bodies. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and only the future will tell us if the menthol and flavoured cigarette ban proves to be a success.