The EU ban on menthol cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco introduced in May 2020 led menthol smokers to be more likely to try to quit smoking and to be successful in quitting compared to non-menthol smokers. These are the findings of a national evaluation study conducted among Dutch smokers, which was published today. At the same time, a third of Dutch menthol smokers say they still smoke menthol cigarettes despite the ban. According to the researchers, this is largely the responsibility of the tobacco industry, which has brought a wide range of accessories onto the market to enable smokers to add menthol flavouring to tobacco products themselves. The scientists are therefore calling for an additional ban on these accessories.
The ban on menthol cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco is the result of an EU directive that came into effect in May 2020. The main reasoning behind the ban was that menthol facilitates smoking and thus increases the risk of nicotine addiction. The study published today is the first in Europe to examine the effect of the menthol ban on smoking cessation. Researchers at the long-term International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) focused specifically on the Netherlands for this study, because Maastricht University and the Trimbos Institute, as ITC Project participants, already conduct annual surveys among Dutch smokers to assess the effects of tobacco policy. This made it relatively easy to make a comparison between the situation before and after the EU ban on menthol in tobacco came into force. The results are very similar to those of previous studies on the effect of a menthol cigarette ban in Canada. ’Now that the ITC Project has found the same results regarding the impact of a ban on menthol-flavoured tobacco on smoking cessation in two very different countries, policymakers in other countries who are still deciding whether to impose a ban can have more confidence in this measure,’ says Marc Willemsen, Professor in Tobacco Control Research at Maastricht University and Scientific Director of Tobacco Control at the Trimbos Institute.
Despite the EU ban, many Dutch smokers say they have not stopped smoking menthol cigarettes. This is chiefly because the tobacco industry has marketed a wide range of accessories to enable people to add menthol flavouring to tobacco products themselves. The researchers argue that this undermines the potential effectiveness of the ban on menthol in roll-your-own tobacco and cigarettes, so the regulations should be tightened. ’The menthol ban was announced long ago by the European Commission,’ says Willemsen. ’First there was a ban on other characterising flavours, and only a year later on menthol. As a result, the industry had extra time to anticipate it and bring alternative products onto the market to meet the demand for menthol from some smokers. The effect of the ban would have been greater if the industry had not been allowed this room for manoeuvre.’
This research was made possible in part by financial contributions from Longfonds, Netherlands Heart Foundation, KWF Dutch Cancer Society, Diabetes Fonds and the Netherlands Thrombosis Foundation.