Menthol cigarette ban predicted to accelerate smokers switching to vaping and the opportunity for better public health

The menthol cigarette ban that comes into force this week (20th May) is predicted to lead to a spike in adult smokers switching over to significantly less-harmful vaping equivalents, presenting a major public health opportunity across Britain.

Research undertaken amongst 1,000 UK menthol smokers by Vape Club, one of the UK’s largest online vape retailers, reveals that 39% will quit smoking, with nearly a fifth (18%) indicating they will switch to vaping to do so. Other methods of quitting were cited as cold turkey (10%) and nicotine gums or patches (5%).

Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and medical adviser at Prescription Doctor, commented:

“Menthol cigarettes made smoking much more available for those who dislike the taste of standard tobacco cigarettes and meant that many more people took up smoking. The response from menthol smokers is clearly telling us that the ban will lead to significant numbers quitting smoking with most switching over to vaping to do so. If this is the case this could have a major positive impact on the wellbeing of the nation.”

Sir Kevin Barron, former MP and Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, says: “The menthol cigarette ban should be seen as a great opportunity to improve public health, and a chance for current smokers to explore less-harmful alternatives, such as menthol flavour vaping.”

Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Bulkington and the former chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping, adds: “Given the size of the menthol cigarette market in the UK, this could be a defining moment for the vaping sector and public health across the country, especially with the plans of the vaping sector for their menthol vaping ranges and the fact that menthol vape products have proved to be one of the most popular for smokers transitioning to vaping.

“A big switch, as predicted, could provide a real boost to public health given the evidence clearly points to vaping being significantly less harmful than smoking.”

Tim Phillips, managing director of market research firm ECigIntelligence, sees a potential spike in menthol smokers converting to vaping. Phillips comments: “We expect that a substantial proportion of current menthol cigarette users will migrate to e-cigarettes or other reduced-risk products.

“Menthol smokers may well start out using menthol e-cigarettes, which is normal for vapers, and subsequently move on to other flavours. This is similar to vapers who start with familiar tobacco flavour but then become more adventurous and take advantage of other flavours that are available in the e-cigarette market.”

The potential for improvements in public health through smokers’ quitting for vaping is backed by Public Health England, which continues to state that vaping is at least 95% less-harmful than smoking.

The UK menthol cigarette ban originates from a range of tobacco control measures approved by the European Parliament in 2013, with the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive mandating the banning of menthol cigarettes by 2022. In accordance with this directive, menthol cigarettes – a near 100-year old category – will no longer be sold in the UK as of 20th May 2020.

Data suggests that menthol cigarettes are used by some 18% of 7.2m smokers in the UK, indicating around 1.3m current menthol smokers across the country. In 2018 global sales exceeded $80bn. Currently, some 14.4% of the adult population in England smoke and according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) data published last year there are an estimated 3.6m vapers in Great Britain.

The origins of menthol cigarettes go back to the first quarter of the 20th century, when they were invented in 1925 by American Lloyd ‘Spud’ Hughes. Spud Brand cigarettes had become one of the United States’ leading makers by the 1930s.

Research by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), the largest trade body representing the sector, shows that menthol vape products sold by its retail and wholesale members represent an average of some 16.5% of all sales and nearly double this number (30.75%) for manufacturers producing such products.

John Dunne, director at the UKVIA, added: “The UKVIA and its members are fully prepared for this landmark change to UK regulations and are ready to provide smokers looking to switch, and existing vapers, with a range of viable menthol smoke-free alternatives to see them through this transition.”

The vaping industry is gearing up for the ban. Evapo, an independent vape retail chain with 37 stores throughout the country, is launching a new e-liquid brand range called Menthol Blast which includes a new Tobacco-Menthol flavour specifically designed to appeal to smokers of leading menthol cigarette brands.

Says Andrej Kuttruf, CEO at Evapo and a board member at the UKVIA: “Even if only 10% of menthol cigarette smokers decide to quit for vaping this would represent a huge switch over with potentially major benefits for public health. We will be targeting the switcher market as menthol vapes have proved to be amongst the best products to help smokers make a successful transition.”

“Once we are in a position to reopen our shops, our in-store NHS certified Stop Smoking Practitioners will be available to provide advice to smokers who are interested in using the ban as a means to switch to vaping.”

Liam Chapman, CEO at Juice Sauz Manufacturing, concurs: “Following the menthol cigarette ban this month, there’s never been a better time to switch to e-cigarettes and menthol flavours.

“Menthol vape products are incredibly popular among consumers and are typically a first choice in our stores for anyone looking to switch to vaping. Indeed, our core menthol range V4POUR makes up a significant amount of our sales for the business.

Christian Mulcahy, Director at online retailer multiVAPE and at the UKVIA, thinks vaping is the natural harm-reduction choice for menthol smokers: “Menthol is one of the vaping sector’s most successful offerings, and we know from experience that menthol cigarette smokers have switched directly to less-harmful, menthol flavoured vaping products.”

Robert Naouss, External Affairs Director at RELX, Asia’s leading e-cigarette brand, with a growing market in the UK, adds: “We are closely monitoring how the UK’s menthol cigarette ban could affect adult smokers, many of whom may not want or be able to quit. We strongly believe in the role innovative design, science, and technology can play in developing viable and satisfying alternatives for adult smokers of [menthol] cigarettes, many of whom are encouraged to turn the upcoming ban into a de-facto opportunity to switch to better alternatives than continued cigarette smoking.”

Pascal Culverhouse, Chief Executive at specialist online retailer Electric Tobacconist, commented: “A reduction in combustible tobacco products available on the market will always be a good thing. Without being able to promote outside our own user base – aside from buying ad space on the side of a bus – our main goal as an online retailer with regards to the menthol ban is to inform our existing customers, many of whom will be dual-users, that their favourite menthol vapes are here to stay.”

The UKVIA have produced a directory of menthol vape products that are available buy from UKVIA members. View Menthol Vape Product Directory here.