In Ireland, menthol cigarettes and rolling tobacco, along with irregularly shaped packs such as skinny cigarettes will be banned from May 20.
Also included in the ban are click dual cigarettes that change from normal to menthol.
It’s all part of the four year phasing-out period of the EU Tobacco Product Directive which entered into force in May 2014 and became applicable in all EU countries on May 20th 2016.
Branding outlawed too
Professor Des Cox is Chair of the Policy Group on Tobacco at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
He supports the ban because he says menthols make starting smoking easier.
“There’s been good research which demonstrates that young people are introduced to smoking often by menthol cigarettes as they find them more attractive, they find them less irritative and they find them more palatable, so that’s a way they get introduced to regular smoking. Also the cigarette companies today have targeted women with these products so we strongly feel that they should be banned and welcome the government’s decision to take this legislation forward,” he says.
Already banned across Europe are smaller packs of rolling tobacco and 10-packs of cigarettes, as well as all tobacco advertising and point of sale displays.
Branding too has been outlawed, and tobacco products can only be sold in plain packaging with prominent health warnings,
The European Commission says it hopes the laws will reduce the number of smokers across the EU by some 2.4 million.
But some smokers, like David Mahon who smokes both menthol and regular cigarettes, fear the menthol ban could have the opposite effect.
“I smoke menthol occasionally as I say and it’s…for me, if I smoke menthol I smoke fewer cigarettes simply because it leaves a taste in your mouth and that for me is not conducive with a meal, or a coffee, or a coke or whatever, whereas a normal cigarette is. So for me, the taste of menthol is…for me actually it inhibits my smoking or slows it down,” he says.
Menthol cigarettes possibly more addictive
Menthol cigarettes are flavoured with compound menthol, a substance which triggers cold-sensitive nerves without a real drop in temperature.
The menthol relaxes the airways and the flavour masks the harshness of tobacco smoke, which critics say makes smoking easier for younger people to start.
Some research also suggests that menthols may boost nicotine levels in the blood, making them more addictive and harder to quit than regular cigarettes.
Dr. Angie Brown is Chair of the anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health (Ireland), or ASH.
“There’s also evidence there that if you smoke menthol cigarettes it’s actually harder to quit so potentially they’re more addictive and there is pharmacological evidence of that because it seems that menthol affects nicotine levels, decreases the breakdown and affects the receptors in the brain so raising the levels of nicotine,” she says.
“So potentially they’re actually more addictive. And of course they have all the carcinogens in that non-menthol cigarettes have so they still cause cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and emphysema so they’re certainly not safer than non-menthol cigarettes.”
Ban could encourage smuggling business
John Mallon, spokesman for Forest Éireann which is mainly funded by the tobacco industry and campaigns against tobacco control activity says the ban on menthols will encourage cigarette smugglers and will be ineffective at reducing smoking.
“If a menthol smoker cannot get menthol cigarettes the likelihood is that they will just buy ordinary cigarettes, still preferring if they could get menthol, but of course the big bonanza – the big winner in this – are the smugglers – because they’ll bring in the menthol and they’ll be the only place you can get them…you can get menthol cigarettes,” he says.
“They’ll be half the price if you buy in boxes of two hundred so the cigarette smoker who prefers menthol will probably end up buying in two-hundreds and smoking far more. It’s negative, it’s not proactive, it’s not positive. It’s negative, stupid and unnecessary. That would be our view of it.”
Mahon agrees that the menthol ban is unlikely to curb smoking.
“Fewer and fewer people in Europe are smoking which is good but still there are people who are choosing to smoke. And I don’t think that it makes any difference between whether it’s a double…a choice double menthol cigarette or a normal cigarette. It’s the nicotine hit you want and it’s the enjoyment of the moment when you’re smoking it that you want whether you’re outside a pub, in a terrace, coffee shop…simple as. We’re humans.”
Despite progress in reducing rates of smoking in Ireland in recent years, it remains one of the greatest public health challenges.
According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), nearly 6,000 people die each year from the effects of smoking, with thousands more suffering from smoking-related diseases.