A new study concludes that the European ban on menthol cigarettes in 2020 made menthol smokers more likely to quit, supporting previous Canadian research on the positive public health impact of banning menthol cigarettes.
Christina Kyriakos of Imperial College London led the study in collaboration with researchers from Maastricht University and the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands and the International Tobacco Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
This Dutch study is our second large national study to provide evidence of the strong impact of banning menthol cigarettes on quitting, which supports proposed menthol bans in the US and other countries.”
Jeffrey T. Fong, professor of psychology and public health sciences at Waterloo and principal investigator of the ITC project
The research team examined a national sample of adult smokers of menthol and non-menthol cigarettes in the Netherlands before and after the menthol ban in the EU. Of menthol smokers surveyed before and after the ban, 26.1 percent had quit smoking. This quit rate was higher than the control group of non-menthol smokers, of whom only 14.1% quit.
In fact, the increased quit rate of 12 percent of menthol smokers following the European ban is greater than the increased quit rate of 7.3 percent found in an ITC study of the menthol ban that was in place across Canada in 2018 .
For decades, tobacco companies have added menthol to cigarettes because it creates a cooling sensation that reduces the harshness of the smoke. This makes it easier to start smoking, making it more likely that young non-smokers will switch to regular smoking and become addicted to nicotine.
For more than a decade, the World Health Organization and many other public health bodies have called on governments to ban menthol in cigarettes to reduce smoking, which kills 7.1 million smokers and 1.2 million non-smokers from secondhand smoke annually worldwide. The global tobacco control treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, calls on countries to ban or restrict menthol and other additives that make smoking easier.
To date, 35 countries have banned menthol cigarettes. On April 28, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a proposed rule to ban menthol in cigarettes and cigars. An ITC study released today on the impact of the Canadian ban predicts that banning menthol cigarettes in the US will cause more than 1.3 million smokers to quit.
The Dutch study also found that a third of menthol smokers reported continuing to smoke menthol cigarettes even after the ban. The tobacco industry markets a wide range of accessories to allow people to add menthol flavoring to tobacco products themselves.
“These actions by the tobacco industry undermine the effectiveness of the menthol ban. By tightening the regulations to include these menthol additives, the impact of the menthol ban on quitting could be even greater,” said Mark Willemsen, co-author of the Dutch study and professor of tobacco control research at Maastricht University. and Scientific Director of Tobacco Control at the Trimbos Institute.
The study, Impact of the European Union ban on menthol cigarettes on smoking cessation outcomes: longitudinal findings from the ITC studies in the Netherlands 2020–2021, appears in the journal Tobacco control.
Kyriakos, CN, and others. (2022) Impact of the European Union ban on menthol cigarettes on smoking cessation outcomes: Longitudinal findings from the ITC studies in the Netherlands 2020-2021. Tobacco control. doi.org/10.1136/tc-2022-057428.