Despite tobacco industry claims, a new study found that banning menthol-flavored cigarettes did not lead to more people purchasing illicit smokes.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo surveyed smokers to study the impact of a menthol cigarette ban in Canada. Smokers of both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes were surveyed before and after Canada's ban, and asked about their usual cigarette brand and the last one they bought.
Smokers who were still smoking after the menthol ban were also asked where they last purchased cigarettes.
After the ban, researchers found no change in purchasing cigarettes from First Nations reserves, the main source of illicit cigarettes in Canada.
"The tobacco industry has a long history of claiming that policies to reduce smoking will lead to substantial increases in illicit trade," said lead study author Janet Chung-Hall, a research scientist for the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation Project at Waterloo.
"We can add the Canadian menthol ban to the long list of effective policies, such as graphic warnings and plain packaging, whose evaluation disproved the scare tactics by industry - showing that illicit trade did not, in fact, increase," Chung-Hall said in a university news release.
A 2022 study that combined ITC Project data and a comparable evaluation study in Ontario found increased smoking cessation among menthol smokers compared to non-menthol smokers. The increase in quitting was 7.3%.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning menthol cigarettes. ITC researchers estimate this would lead over 1.3 million smokers to quit.
Public health authorities have called for banning menthol because it promotes smoking, according to the study. Canada was among the first to do so. More than 30 countries now have menthol bans.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide.
"Our previous research from Canada and the Netherlands showed that a menthol cigarette ban leads to significant reductions in smoking," said Geoffrey Fong, principal investigator of the ITC Project and professor of psychology and public health sciences at Waterloo. "These findings combine to provide powerful evidence in support of FDA's proposed menthol ban."
The study was published recently in the journal Tobacco Control.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health effects of smoking.
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