The US FDA has decided to ban menthol cigarettes. Australia should do this and more

Menthol is the ingredient in mint cigarettes that conjures up images of beaches, snowy ski slopes and glamorous parties on yachts, all crisp white and cool green. Menthol as a deadly additive is finally under threat.

Several countries, including Canada, Ethiopia, Turkey, Chile, the European Union and the United Kingdom, have banned the use of menthol and other flavorings in tobacco products.

Late in regulating menthol in tobacco products, the United States Food and Drug Administration also announced a ban.

In Australia, we have done little to change the content of cigarettes and other smoking products. So we are even further behind the many other countries that have banned menthol.

For “shy” women

Marketing of menthol by the tobacco industry in Australia has long been targeted at so-called sophisticated smokers. In Melbourne in the 1990s, tobacco giant Philip Morris – in its analysis of the personality of smokers of its menthol brand Alpine – found that “Alpine Gal is a physically shy woman”, so the packaging had to be “gentle not “dare the devil”. .

The classic “fresh” look of menthol cigarette advertising.
Flickr/Keijo Knutas, CC BY-SA

More recently, the industry has added ‘crushed balls’ or capsules of menthol to the filters of Australian cigarettes, so that users get a hit of menthol by biting on the filter. Again, women and children are the target market. A study from Wales showed that:

[…] Three out of five smokers aged 11 to 16 said they had used menthol cigarettes in the last 30 days, showing how attractive these products are to young people, especially capsule cigarettes, used by 70% menthol smokers.

A search of millions of tobacco industry documents confirms that menthol is designed to attract new young smokers, who mistakenly believe it makes cigarettes less harmful.

opened cigarette filter shows blue capsule inside
Nowadays, menthol capsules are used inside cigarette filters.
Author provided

In 2012, then Australian Minister of Health and Attorney General Nicola Roxon regulated the exterior of cigarette packets, introducing plain packaging with graphic health warnings. While significant, the packaging change didn’t change anything inside the product.

Neither did subsequent governments.

In other words, we have yet to regulate the most damaging aspects of cigarette design that increase and sustain addiction.

Read more: Next step for tobacco control? Make cigarettes less palatable

Not really “light” – just dangerous

Menthol is associated with so-called “light” cigarettes, which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has found misleading and misleading and has banned the use of the term. The ACCC has not banned the content or engineering of cigarettes.

It’s not just the additives in cigarettes and the smoke emissions that are harmful. The filter “technical hoax” – which does not make smoking safer – is an even more dangerous scam.

Read more: Filters: A cigarette engineering hoax that harms both smokers and the environment

A new era of additives

Australia’s new National Tobacco Strategy consultation draft says it will “explore” regulation of filters, additives – including menthol – and nicotine content, but offers little certainty.

In the UK, the ban on menthol cigarettes not only sparked a shift to menthol vapes, but also prompted the tobacco industry to invent new products to exploit loopholes in the law.

Late last year, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project – a network of investigative journalists – found:

One of Big Tobacco’s main goals was to define menthol as loosely as possible.

Thus, any attempt at legislative control must be rigorously formulated. Big Tobacco will drive their legal trucks through anything vague.

Effects of bans are mixed

Canadian research has shown a drop in smoking rates following their ban on menthol.

Other research has suggested that targeting menthol in cigarettes could lead to a shift to vaping, as in the UK. We know vaping is a global public health issue and flavors are driving adoption among teens. The FDA will not immediately ban menthol in e-cigarettes.

hand with e-cigarette and vapor
In some places, bans on menthol cigarettes have seen a shift to vaping.

Vaping causes lung damage and exacerbates symptoms of COVID.

E-cigarettes and non-burning products should be regulated in exactly the same way as other tobacco products, and flavors should be regulated or eliminated.

New Zealand has decided to reduce the nicotine content, the main addictive drug in tobacco. But New Zealand dropped the ball on e-cigarettes by separating its regulatory framework from other tobacco products. The country is experiencing high rates of vaping among teens.

Read more: Damning review of e-cigarettes shows vaping leads to smoking, the opposite of what proponents claim

Smoking kills

There are three million smokers in Australia. Two-thirds will die of smoking-related illnesses.

Most will have health problems, and our wards and hospital emergency departments deal with much higher rates of smoker admissions than the general population.

The overwhelming burden on the healthcare system and the associated economic cost could be effectively reduced through comprehensive tobacco regulatory measures.

End of Game

The four endgame initiatives that will minimize smoking and vaping in Australia are:

  1. a ban on the sale of combustible and vaping tobacco products to anyone born after 2004

  2. regulations to eliminate flavors (including but not limited to menthol) in combustible, vaping and emerging tobacco products

  3. gradual reduction in nicotine content

  4. a ban on filter ventilation engineering in cigarettes.

Banning menthol as a stand-alone reform would make a modest contribution to reducing smoking and vaping rates in Australia.

However, a substantial reduction in smoking rates will only occur with a comprehensive set of measures, already strongly supported in the community. These include the complete elimination of the sale of tobacco products.

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