Menthol Cigarettes: Tobacco Industry Interests and Interference

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Menthol cigarettes are key products in tobacco company portfolios, representing an estimated 10% of the global cigarette market according to the World Health Organization (WHO).1 Using flavouring agents as additives is thought to promote and sustain tobacco use, and therefore WHO recommends banning menthol and other flavours in cigarettes.2


Cigarettes are produced and sold with a variety of flavouring agents, including sweet flavours, such as strawberry, honey, or apple.3 Menthol, a type of alcohol that can be obtained from mint plants or manufactured, is the most widely used cigarette flavour.456  Besides adding a flavour, menthol desensitises receptors that lead to irritant sensations from nicotine, making the experience of smoking less harsh.47

Smoking menthol may help establish smoking among young people6891011 and reduce the likelihood of quitting.8912 Banning menthol should discourage sustained tobacco use.813

Menthol cigarettes could contribute to health inequalities: in the USA they have been found to be disproportionately smoked by those with lower incomes;71415 those with a lower level of education;7 women;16 African Americans;17 and young people.18

Menthol cigarettes are also more commonly used by less-established or ‘novice’ smokers, and those who are experimenting with smoking.1518 Research shows that the tobacco industry has manipulated the menthol content of cigarettes to promote smoking initiation and sustain tobacco use.1920 Menthol was found to be key to industry strategy in Singapore, to both recruit and retain young smokers.21

Mass distribution and marketing of menthol did not start until the 1960s although a US patent for menthol flavouring was granted in the 1920s.5622  In 2007 a new innovation for adding flavour appeared on the Japanese market which has since become common elsewhere, often marketed as a ‘crushball’, in which flavour is added via crushing a small plastic capsule in the filter.2324  Cigarettes with flavour capsules are popular with young people due to the interactivity, and the novelty of smoking a cigarette with two flavours. 232425 Some markets, such as the UK, only have menthol flavoured capsule cigarettes available, and not other flavours.26

Menthol can be present in tobacco products not labelled as menthol.2728 The tobacco industry has stated that this might occur as a by-product of processing, but that it is also added deliberately to improve the flavour.729

Regulation and Industry Interference

Regulation of flavours that make smoking more palatable is recommended by the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC).12 Turkey was the first country to successfully introduce a ban on flavoured cigarettes, including menthol, in 2015, to be fully implemented in 2020.3031 Ethiopia also banned menthol flavouring for cigarettes in 2015, effectively a pre-emptive move as Ethiopia had no significant existing use of menthol.132


Brazil was the first country in the world to pass a law banning menthol tobacco products in 2012, but was unable to enact it due to industry interference and a lengthy court battle.3334 Philip Morris Brasil (PMB) had challenged the ban through its membership of The National Industry Confederation (Confederação Nacional da Indústria, CNI), arguing that the ban was unconstitutional.3536 According to PMI’s 2018 annual report, “The tobacco union requested a stay of the enforcement of the ingredient ban while the appeal is pending”.36 The Brazilian government finally won the court case in February 2018.3433


The Ministry of Health in Chile, a country with high use of menthol cigarettes, particularly among women, tried to introduce a menthol ban under an existing law in 2013.137 After lobbying from the tobacco industry, the ban was rejected due to claims of a lack of evidence of increased addiction or harm from menthol products.138 A new bill was introduced in 2015, supported by data showing very high use of menthol-flavoured cigarettes by young people (66% for smokers under 18). In response to the new bill, British American Tobacco (BAT) threatened to withdraw its operations from Chile.3940 Despite passing the law in the Senate, as of February 2020 the law had yet to be implemented.41 Although the bill stalled, BAT went ahead with the closure of some of its factories. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, this “can be interpreted as a decision to consolidate based on cost efficiency and not on local tobacco-control laws”.40 BAT continues to manufacture and market menthol cigarettes in Chile, with sales of capsule cigarettes increasing (see below).


Menthol cigarettes were initially exempted from a flavour ban in Canada in 2010. Evidence showed that menthol cigarettes were used by nearly a third of high school aged smokers.42 The tobacco industry lobbied against extending the ban to non-cigarette products (cigarillos and smokeless tobacco).43 After implementation tobacco companies developed new variations on existing products, including small menthol cigars, to get around the ban.144 A series of menthol bans were implemented in Canadian provinces, starting with Nova Scotia in May 2015, and by October 2017 menthol cigarettes had been banned across Canada.14546

Canadian legislation bans menthol’s use as an ingredient because menthol’s presence at subliminal levels reduces the negative sensations of smoking.474849

United States

In the US, menthol represented nearly one third (27%) of the cigarette market when it was excluded from a cigarette flavour ban in 2009.5051 A proposed federal (nationwide) ban in 2016 led to a drop in the value of tobacco companies’ shares, although it was not implemented.5253 By 2018, 36% of cigarettes sold were menthol, and less than 1% of the US population lived in areas where menthol cigarettes were banned.251 In 2020, Massachusetts passed state-wide legislation banning all flavoured tobacco products, including menthol. Later the same year California passed a similar law, although some cigars and pipe tobacco were exempt.54 There are multiple other local bans and restrictions in place across the country – for more information see the factsheet produced by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.55

The US continues to be an important market for tobacco companies’ menthol brands. In its 2018 Annual Report, BAT said that after it acquired US tobacco company RJ Reynolds in 2017 “The sales of Newport, together with the other menthol brands of the Group’s operating subsidiaries, represent a significant portion of the Group’s total net sales”.56 In the same report it repeatedly noted the risk of any future flavour bans to impact negatively on its business.56 In September 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that the tobacco industry was attempting to interfere with the implementation of the California ban through third party action.57

In June 2020, two US NGOs (African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and Action on Smoking and Health) filed a lawsuit against the FDA to try to force it to introduce a ban on menthol cigarettes in order to reduce health inequalities, noting that 85% of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.58 See also the STOP statement on this legal action.

The same figure has been used by the tobacco industry to lobby against the ban, arguing that it is discriminatory: “giving special treatment to the rich, and singling out communities of color”.59 In September 2020, the American Medical Association (AMA) joined the lawsuit as co-plaintiffs.60 The president of the AMA said that “For generations, tobacco companies have promoted menthol cigarettes to the African American community, preying especially on African American youth… This action is long, long overdue”.60

European Union

An EU-wide ban on the sale of flavoured cigarettes was introduced in May 2016, including menthol, under the 2014 revised European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), with a May 2016 deadline for EU countries to transpose the TPD into national law.61 While retailers were allowed a year to sell stocks of other flavours, the phase-out period for menthol was extended for a further three years, and was due to come into force across the EU in May 2020.62

Moldova, an non-EU country in the lower middle income category with a high smoking rate, was also due to ban menthol cigarettes in May 2020.3063 (In 2019, PMI increased its lobbying efforts in Moldova, to try to gain influence over tobacco control policy in the country. For more information see Swiss Diplomats Lobbying for PMI.)

After protests against the TPD from the tobacco industry, and an (ultimately unsuccessful) legal challenge by Poland at the European Court of Justice, supported by Romania, implementation of the ban on menthol cigarettes was postponed to 2020.6465 This was agreed as a four-year transitional “phase-out” period for all flavoured products with more than a 3% market share in the EU, such as menthol.66

The relevant wording of the EU TPD menthol ban is as follows:

“Member States shall prohibit the placing on the market of… cigarettes and roll your own tobacco… products with a characterising flavour… including… menthol [or those] containing flavourings in any of their components such as filters, papers, packages, capsules or any technical features allowing modification of the smell or taste of the tobacco products concerned…  However, products with characterising flavour with a higher sales volume should be phased out over an extended time period to allow consumers adequate time to switch to other products… In the case of tobacco products with a characterising flavour whose Union-wide sales volumes represent 3 % or more in a particular product category, the provisions of this Article shall apply from 20 May 2020… The Member States and the Commission may charge proportionate fees to manufacturers and importers of tobacco products for assessing [compliance].” 61

While the ban applied to cigarettes, some tobacco products were exempt: cigars, cigarillos and pipe tobacco. Menthol accessories that were not sold within the same packaging as the tobacco or cigarettes were also excluded.6768

A leaked Philip Morris International (PMI) document from 2014 indicated that it opposed flavour bans and identified the European menthol ban as a threat to its business.69 However, in a presentation in February 2020, it stated that the ban was “not expected to have [a] significant impact”.6970 CEO Andre Calantzopoulos said that, while menthol accounted for 10% of consumption in the region, this was in fact an “opportunity” for PMI’s heated tobacco product IQOS, as its tobacco sticks (HEETs) were not covered by the ban.71 In early 2020, Philip Morris actively promoted IQOS as an alternative to menthol cigarettes, to retailers and to consumers.72737475

See below for a description of the range of tactics used by tobacco companies to exploit loopholes in the legislation, and circumvent the EU menthol ban.

Do Bans Work?

An evaluation of a menthol cigarette ban in Ontario, Canada enacted in January 2017 found that having a ban in place was associated with a reduction in menthol and total cigarette sales, while this effect was not observed for a Canadian state without a ban.76

Where neighbouring countries do not implement a ban, it has been suggested that there is a risk that smuggling will increase.77 Tobacco companies have used this argument when lobbying against regulation, including the TPD. However, the risk associated with the movement of illicit tobacco is often exaggerated by the tobacco industry.

The Global Market for Menthol Cigarettes

Euromonitor International produces data on cigarette market share by volume of capsule cigarettes (i.e. of any flavour, including menthol) and menthol flavoured cigarettes (i.e. without capsules) for up to 78 countries. Note that Euromonitor receives project funding from Philip Morris International.78

According to Euromonitor, in 2018, capsules accounted for 3% of the market worldwide (by volume) and menthol flavoured cigarettes 4%. However, regional distribution varies. Menthol flavoured cigarettes tend to have a larger share of the market than capsules in the lower income countries of the Western Pacific region (10% on average); in contrast, in Europe the average market share for menthol flavoured cigarettes was only 3% across the region (see below).50 

Sales of capsule cigarettes have in general tended to increase with growth in a country’s income (as defined by the World Bank).In Chile capsules made up 41% of the cigarette market in 2018, the highest figure in Latin America, and globally. In South Korea, capsule cigarettes have a 17% share of the market; standard menthol flavoured cigarettes have just over 4%.50

Both types of flavoured cigarette are equally popular in Nigeria and have a large share (53%) of the tobacco market. Only two of the countries included in Euromonitor’s analysis, North Macedonia and Canada, had no measurable market for either.50

Market share in Europe

In 2020, Euromonitor analysis estimated the whole European menthol market to be worth around EU€9.7 billion (US$11 billion, nearly UK£8.5 billion).77

The International Tobacco Control (ITC) survey in 2016 (n=10,000 adult smokers, in 8 European countries) found that the countries with the highest menthol use were England (over 12% of smokers) and Poland (10%); the lowest levels were observed in Germany and Spain (Figure 1).79

Graph showing eight EU countries and prevalence for menthol cigarettes and other flavours
Figure 1: Prevalence of flavour of cigarettes smoked (usual brand of choice) in 2016 (%).(Source: EUREST-PLUS ITC Europe Surveys)

The ITC figures are supported by 2018 Euromonitor data, which show that the combined market share of menthol and capsules was generally higher in northern European countries, with the highest in Poland, at over 25%, followed by the UK, at over 20% (see Figure 2).50 The relative shares of menthol flavoured cigarettes versus those with capsules (menthol and other flavours) also varied; while the market share for capsules exceeded the share for menthol flavoured tobacco in half of EU countries, in others the capsule share was very low or non-existent.50 Menthol and capsule market share has tended to be higher for European countries outside the EU.50


Stacked bar chart for WHO Europe region
Figure 2: Menthol and capsule market share in Europe, WHO region, 2018 (Source: Euromonitor International, accessed February 2020). Note capsule cigarettes (“capsule” in blue) can be any flavour but some countries just allow menthol; “menthol” (green) includes all menthol cigarettes without capsules.

Menthol market share grew in the UK

The UK cigarette market is dominated by two tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco (Imperial Brands) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI).80 According to Euromonitor, in 2019 Imperial had a 44% share of the total cigarette market and JTI 37%, by retail volume. Although it is also based in the UK, British American Tobacco (BAT)’s share was much smaller, at just over 9%. Philip Morris International (PMI) had under 8%, mainly due to its Marlboro brand.81

Menthol cigarettes form an estimated 21% of the UK market.50 2018 figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that there were 7.2 million smokers in the UK; based on the 2016 ITC survey data (detailed above) that would equate to nearly 900,000 smokers who usually smoke menthol cigarettes. According to market research data the figure was much higher in 2018, nearly 1.3 million, although this would include those who smoke other types of cigarette (e.g. standard non-flavoured) as well as menthol.82

When the revised TPD was approved, industry and retailers were given a 4-year delay to prepare for the menthol ban. The European Commission specified that this was a “phase-out period”.6661 There was a similar ‘sell-through period’ (a period when soon to be non-compliant stock can be sold off) when standardised packaging was introduced into the UK, although only for one year (May 2016 – May 2017).83

Menthol/capsule cigarettes’ market share began to decline after the EU TPD legislation was announced in EU countries, whereas there was some growth in in countries in the WHO Europe Region which were not EU members.  Two exceptions were the UK and Poland, two markets with high proportions of menthol sales.  In these countries there was marked growth in the market share of menthol/capsule cigarettes despite the incoming ban. 5084  It appears that the tobacco industry was prolonging sales in the ‘phase out’ period in these countries, thus calling into question the necessity of a long derogation (delay to implementation).8586

Tobacco Company Buy-Back Schemes

Despite being given four extra years by the EUTPD to get ready for the menthol ban, UK retailer group the Association of Convenience Stores stated, in advice to its members, that there was “no sell-through period”.6885 Tobacco companies stated that they had, or were planning, ‘buy-back’ schemes, to encourage retailers to sell menthol cigarettes right up to the ban.85  However, tobacco companies were slow to inform UK retailers of their plans.

PMI’s UK affiliate Philip Morris Ltd (PML) supplied details of its scheme via a dedicated website, where it promoted PMI’s heated tobacco product (HTP) IQOS as an alternative product, and which required retailer registration (see below).8788 Further details were provided as late as the end of April 2020.858889 BAT said in November 2019 that it would swap small amounts of menthol stock after the ban came into force. However, when approached by trade publication Better Retailing in April, less than a month before the ban, BAT refused to give further details.89

Imperial Tobacco also gave no indication whether or how it would take back excess menthol products, other than that it would “be dealt with on an individual basis”.89 It was reported that some retailers had advised others to remove from their product lists those products supplied by companies which would not disclose their plans. Otherwise, they risked being left holding stock which they would not be able to legally sell after 20 May.89

Tobacco companies issued warnings of the risks of the ban leading to illicit trade. JTI, which said it would be buying back excess menthol stock, warned retailers that there was a risk of illicit trade in menthol cigarettes, claiming that “counterfeit menthol products [had been] seized in the UK already”. 8990 However, Better Retailing stated that this was contrary to information from other tobacco companies earlier in the year.90 JTI’s anti illicit trade operations manager said that retailers should warn their customers not to buy fake products, using common tobacco industry arguments around product quality and safety.90

For more information see our pages on illicit trade.

Tobacco Companies Activities to Circumvent and Undermine the Menthol Ban

Six billion menthol cigarettes were sold in the UK in 2018.91 According to the ITC survey, 17.5% of UK smokers said that they intended to quit after the ban (an average of 16% of smokers in the EU said the same).79 As this could reduce annual sales by around 1 billion sticks (3% of the total UK cigarette market), tobacco companies had a clear interest in circumventing the ban and maintaining market share, particularly Imperial and JTI (having over 80% of the total cigarette market between them).

Methods varied: Imperial and JTI developed new products; PMI used it as an opportunity to promote its own alternatives. All created ‘menthol ban’ websites or web pages.

Tobacco companies were reported to be lobbying the European Commission for further postponement of the ban (see below).

Product Innovation: New Accessories

Tobacco companies used product innovation as a way to circumvent the menthol ban and maintain a market for their menthol products, claiming that they were doing so to meet the needs of consumers.779293

Tobacco accessories sold separately are not covered by the current TPD regulations, although they can still impart a menthol flavour. Imperial launched menthol roll your own (RYO) filter tips in mid-2017.94 In January 2019, it launched a filter tip with a capsule, called “Polar Blast”.95 Independent company Republic Technologies, which specialises in RYO accessories, also introduced a new menthol filter under its Swan brand.72(Republic Technologies bought Swedish Match UK in 2008, but does not sell tobacco).96 These products could encourage menthol cigarette smokers to switch to RYO, rather than quit.

IMage of Rizla packet inserts, menthol and fresh mint
Figure 3: Imperial’s Rizla menthol “infusion” cards (source:

In January 2020, the launch of Imperial’s Flavour Infusion cards” in two flavours: “menthol chill” and “fresh mint” was announced (Figure 3).97 These cards impart a menthol flavour into factory made cigarettes or RYO tobacco if inserted into product packs.98

The point of sale display ban exempts tobacco accessories (including branding) in England and Wales but in Scotland accessories must be hidden like other tobacco products.99 Imperial have made use of the exemption in England and Wales to recommend that flavour infusion cards are promoted in point of sale displays.98100

In late March 2020, JTI promoted new ‘dual’ cigarette products with new blends, filters and two sections of 10 cigarettes, to appeal to menthol smokers looking for new products.101102 However it was unclear what these new ‘blends’ entailed.

New “Green”, “Blue” and “Bright” Cigarettes

A week before the May ban, Imperial Tobacco announced the launch of new “smooth” variants of their non-menthol brands, called “Bright” and “Green Filter” to “help retailers cater for their menthol and crushball customers when the ban comes into effect, by offering them new innovations from their brands of choice”.103 The company said its research showed that 82% of menthol and crushball smokers would continue to smoke their usual cigarette brand, and 70% percent were “expected to switch to a smooth or full flavour variant”.103

JTI also developed a range of “Green” and “Blue” product variations under the same brand names as their menthol cigarettes.104 The Sun newspaper reported that these products tasted and smelled like menthol, without containing the substance.104 Scottish Local Retailer published a dedicated  publication for UK retailers in conjunction in conjunction with JTI, called “Making A Mint”, which detailed alternative products including cigarettes made with “distinctive blends” of tobacco.(Figure 4 )105 These new cigarettes were promoted under the logo “menthol reimagined”, alongside  JTI’s Next Generation Products (NGPs).105 (Imperial Tobacco promoted its e-cigarette blu in this publication.105 See below for more on tobacco companies promoting NGPs as menthol alternatives). JTI also ran an online training course for retailers, which featured their new cigarettes as direct replacements for existing menthol brands.104

Brand images for JTI's new cigarette products, headed Menthol Ban 2020

Figure 4: Page from retail publication showing JTI’s alternative cigarettes post-ban.(Source: Scottish Local Retailer/Japan Tobacco International, “Making a Mint”,  2020, PDF supplied by Action on Smoking and Health)

Better Retailing reported that, according to information from UK wholesalers, tobacco companies had between them created 29 new product lines to replace menthol products due to be banned, which was confusing for customers.106 While colour and branding can be used to promote products to retailers, cigarettes can only be sold in plain packs, and so the only noticeable difference for the customer with these new products would be a slight change of brand variant name.

Similar tactics were used in the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state, not part of the UK). The Irish Times reported that JTI were selling a “green” version of their Silk Cut cigarette brand, arguing that it complied with the ban, even though the company admitted that it used menthol flavouring in its manufacture.107 According to the newspaper JTI stated that they: “conduct robust internal testing processes to determine that the use of flavourings in our products does not produce a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco.”107 BAT accused JTI of using the same tactic in France, with new versions of its Camel and Winston brands, to which JTI issued a similar denial.108

The Irish Times also reported that PML was advertising a new cigarette in the retail press. Called “Marlboro Bright, it was described by PMI as a “the Marlboro menthol blend – without methylation”.107109 PMI later said that this advertisement was a “mistake” and it should have used the phrase “without menthol” rather than “methylation”.109 The company insisted that it had “delisted all menthol cigarettes in the UK and Ireland – all of our cigarettes remaining on the market, including our latest variant Marlboro Bright, do not have any menthol in them and are in full compliance with the law”.110

BAT also developed new variations under its Pall Mall, Vogue and Rothmans brands which included new blends and changes to filters “providing meaningful differentiation for adult smokers who previously preferred menthol.”111112113 A representative of BAT (P.J.Carroll) in Ireland said that it was “not launching any cigarette brands or accessories with menthol-type properties”.107

These attempts to adapt products were criticised by the Irish government  with a spokesperson stating that the Health Minister believed the issue “should be dealt with at EU level”.107

The TPD regulations state that:61
“characterising flavour” means a smell or taste other than one of tobacco which—
(a) is clearly noticeable before or during consumption of the product; and
(b) results from an additive or a combination of additives, including, but not limited to, fruit, spice, herbs, alcohol, candy, menthol or vanilla”

Product Innovation: New cigarillos

The only part of standardised packs legislation applicable to cigars and cigarillos was a larger health warning; legislation on branding, minimum pack size, and flavourings does not apply. Tobacco companies developed new product variations and promoted these products in the retail press.67

Promotional image of Sterling Dual cigarillos
Figure 5: JTI’s Sterling Dual menthol cigarillo (Source:

Stirling Dual Capsules are new cigarette-like cigarillos with a menthol capsule, launched by JTI in early 2020 (figure 5).114  Stirling is one of JTI’s most popular cigarette brands, which already included capsule options.  The cigarillos were however legally allowed to be sold in 10 packs making them  approximately half the price of the cheapest cigarette packs on the UK market. Marketing to retailers framed them as an option to circumvent the menthol ban.8392 Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) described this as a “cynical” move on the part of JTI, saying that its new cigarillo was essentially “a cigarette wrapped in tobacco leaf”.93 JTI,  quoted in retail magazine The Scottish Grocer, said that it was “committed to providing retailers with as much choice as possible by launching innovative new products that respond to current trends”.115

Signature Dual is a similar menthol capsule cigarillo product to Sterling Dual Capsule, from The Scandinavian Tobacco Group, a cigar specialist.  The launch was announced in February 2020.  72116

In August 2020, Imperial Tobacco added a 10-pack of menthol crushball cigarillos to its JPS Players range, with a price comparable to JTI’s product. Imperial’s UK market manager said that this product would: “help bridge the gap left by the ban”.117118

According to Euromonitor data, the UK cigarillo market was in decline until the TPD came into force in 2016, but is now growing. Euromonitor forecasts sales of cigarillos will carry on rising, whereas cigar sales will remain in long term decline.84119

Promoted NGPs through menthol ban websites

As the UK does not allow open promotion and display of tobacco products, tobacco companies created websites and pages specifically to provide information about the ban to retailers and consumers, in addition to articles in the retail press.87119120 Although they are apparently set up to provide information, these websites also help companies to capitalise on the upcoming ban by promoting their next generation products (NGPs).102 These include heated tobacco products (HTPs) such as PMI’s IQOS and its HEETS tobacco sticks, as the ban only applies to combustible products.7289  IQOS is more profitable for PMI than its cigarettes.121

Philip Morris has only a small market share of the UK cigarette market.  Nevertheless, PML set up two websites: (aimed at retailers) and (aimed at consumers). The consumer-facing website advocated three options for current menthol smokers: to “quit”, “heat” or “vape”.122 It also contained market research data, commissioned by PML, stating that, while 15% of smokers would try to quit in response to the ban, over 50% would consider switching to HTPs “once made aware of this option”. While this site mentioned the NHS stop smoking service, and provided a web link, this appeared as a small “disclaimer” at the bottom of the page.122 From Philip Morris’ communications with retailers, it appears that the HTPs it referred to were PMI’s own product IQOS, and that its survey participants were shown the device.75123 

Market research conducted in the UK in 2020 found very different figures from PML. A survey by HIM & MCA, reported in retail publication Convenience Store in May 2020, found that only 6% of menthol smokers said they would switch to menthol HTPs, with 16% likely to opt for e-cigarettes.124 Another survey by e-cigarette retailer Vape Club produced similar results to HIM/MCA; 39% of UK menthol smokers intended to stop using tobacco products, with 18% planning to switch to e-cigarettes, and 15% saying they would quit use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) or no product. Assuming no other products, this would mean that only 6% intended switch to HTPs, the same figure arrived at in the HIM & MCA survey.124125 Both organisations surveyed 1,000 UK menthol smokers, but as of May 2020 no public health survey data was available to confirm these figures. The 2016 ITC survey found that just over 15% of menthol smokers in the UK intended to quit in response to the ban, close to the EU average of 16%.79

Image of screenshot with menthol ban countdown clock, and IQOS pop-up and £10 trial
Figure 6: Screenshot of UK IQOS website, February 2020.

Philip Morris also set up a page on its UK IQOS website, containing information about the ban, including a link to an EU trade factsheet.126 127 The page features a “Menthol Ban Countdown” clock; tells customers that “small retailers like corner shops and news agents will likely be running their stock down in time for the ban, so it may become harder to find menthol cigarettes”; and provides links to buy two HEETS menthol products directly from its website.126 In February 2019, a pop-up offered a trial of IQOS (see figure 6).126 Retailers were also given material on IQOS to hand out to customers.124

In PML’s communications with retailers, it appears that the HTPs it referred to were its own product, IQOS, and that survey participants were shown the device.75128

In an article published in the trade magazine Talking Retail in mid-March 2020, representatives of PML warned shop owners that they would lose customers and money due to the ban, pointing to a “financial impact calculator” on their menthol ban retail website. An average figure of £13,500 per year was quoted, representing loss of cigarettes sales plus the value of other “basket” items bought at the same time. No evidence was provided in this article to explain how PML had reached this estimate. At the same time the company promoted IQOS starter kits, saying that this was “a massive opportunity for retailers to say to smokers there’s still a product that’s closer in experience to cigarettes”.75 PML suggested that retailers could register on its website to access these kits, and that this was where they would be able to find information about the company’s buy-back scheme for unsold menthol cigarettes.7589

Retailers were also offered a series of financial incentives to stock IQOS, through its “Heetwave Open” programme. An e-mail sent from PML to retailers in early May 2020, encourage them to “Sign up and earn £170+”.129 In addition to free HEETs products and money for registering sales of IQOS kits, they were offered money for completing quizzes, watching promotional videos, and uploading images of point of sale material.129 According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), PML also hired sales representatives to promote IQOS directly to newsagents, as part of its efforts to reach a target of a 400% increase in sales of IQOS and HEETS in 2020.130 PML continued to promote IQOS as an alternative to menthol cigarettes after the ban.110

JTI set up a menthol ban section on its retailers’ website (, which was promoted in the retail press.102106131This trade website also contained information for consumers, recommending JTI’s NGPs, with links to websites selling its Logic e-cigarettes and Nordic Spirit nicotine pouches.102131 It also warned consumers against turning to illicit tobacco.131

Imperial, while not setting up specific web pages, offered advice to retailers in the UK trade press.132 Imperial’s Corporate Affairs Director, Duncan Cunningham, in Talking Retail, linked the ban to potential sales of RYO products:132105  

“As a result of the forthcoming changes, we may see some menthol smokers shift into buying RYO products, especially given the arrival of recent product innovations, such as Rizla Polar Blast crushball tips, that will help them continue with their flavour of choice.”

Cunningham also suggested that retailers should increase their stock of the company’s blu  e-cigarette, including its nicotine salt e-liquids to “help heavy smokers switch”.132105 BAT promoted its e-cigarette Vype in the retail press before the ban, and launched new mint e-liquid flavours.111112113  

What Next for Menthol in Europe?

Despite industry efforts to boost menthol sales, the upcoming ban appeared to be having an impact on UK smokers’ purchasing habits. According to retail industry analysts, the Retail Data Partnership, between September 2019 and February 2020, there was a 57% fall in the sales of menthol cigarettes in UK convenience stores, although fewer than 2% of stores had stopped selling them.133 However, as the analysts did not identify any significant rise in sales of RYO tobacco, cigarillos or e-cigarettes, it was unclear whether customers were switching to products bought elsewhere (e.g. online), or were in fact quitting. As of May 2020, public health data was not available to verify these figures.133

The Sun newspaper reported that UK civil servants stated that the menthol ban could be reviewed after the UK left the EU.134 It is not clear whether the tobacco industry intends to lobby to roll back this legislation after the transition period. However, traditionally the UK has gone beyond EU requirements regarding tobacco control, so repealing would require a change in political consensus.135 In July 2020, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care confirmed that “As the ban is part of United Kingdom legislation, it will remain in place when the UK exits the transition period with the European Union”.136

In May, Tobacco companies were reported to be lobbying for further postponement of the ban in the EU.137138  Tobacco industry front group Forest EU were also reported to be lobbying against the ban.138 In January 2019 it had described the ban as “unwarranted attack on consumer choice that will do little to deter children from smoking”.139 These attempts were not successful.

The TPD is due for revision in 2020. It is likely that European governments will need to tighten current regulation to remove the loophole around menthol accessories and new forms of cigarettes, including menthol cigarillos. As essentially a cigarette wrapped in brown leaf rather than white paper, cigarillos are likely to be very attractive to the tobacco industry; not only are they currently exempt from EU and UK standardised packs legislation, but they are also subject to lower taxes.6783

Tobacco companies used harm reduction as a strategy to achieve their business objectives, by promoting their next generation products in advance of the menthol ban. It is not clear whether UK or EU governments intend to broaden legislation to include the tobacco sticks for heated tobacco products (HTPs), or other NGPs like nicotine pouches.

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TCRG Research



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