With the media focus on Covid19 and lockdown measures, the menthol cigarette ban finally coming into force on 20th May attracted little airtime across mainstream media. The purpose of the ban is to reduce the number of smokers, particularly young people, and covers menthol cigarettes including those with capsules with a mint flavour and menthol hand-rolling tobacco. The ban does not cover e-cigarettes or vapes or oral nicotine pouches. The law is in line with the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive.
The tobacco companies have of course ensured there are legal menthol alternatives to help supply the 1.3m menthol smokers in the UK. Rizla has manufactured flavour cards that infuse a mint flavour into cigarettes inside the packet. Phillip Morris has focussed on Heets, tobacco sticks that are heated using an Iqos device rather than burned as in conventional cigarettes.
We looked at the impact the ban has had on the potential alternatives that customers might purchase. This analysis looks at the sales of menthol cigarette alternatives (which includes (Rizla Cards, Heets and Cigarillos).
Figure 1 outlines the increase in sales around week 21 and 22 associated with the ban, and a decrease in sales in the weeks following the ban.
As Friday is the busiest day for sales of all smoking products we can use this as a more specific indicator when examining the buying trends surrounding the Menthol Ban. This is evident in the graph Fig 2.
The menthol ban was enacted on 20th May but from 14th June we see that alternative smoking stores reopened. This means that sales of vape products that had seen an increase in convenience stores throughout the lockdown, have fallen back as some shoppers revert back to their pre-lockdown suppliers.
The initial increase in alternative smoking products is likely to be due to a trialling period as people find a preferred alternative. The continued increase in some menthol alternative products (mainly Heets and Rizla cards), suggests that these products will continue to be used as a substitute to menthol cigarettes. It seems likely that those who used to smoke menthol cigarettes will look for a flavour substitute rather than swapping to the alternative smoking category.
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