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The EU ban on the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes went into effect on May 20 for the Union’s 27 member countries. Menthol cigarette consumption across the European Union represents approximately 5% of total cigarette consumption by volume. Menthol consumption and its prevalence among smokers varies by market, with Poland demonstrating the highest prevalence.
The Foundation is sponsoring surveys of adult menthol cigarette smokers in several EU countries before and after the menthol cigarette ban. The pre-ban surveys queried awareness and intention to quit or switch. In light of COVID-19, the surveys also monitored behavioral changes among adult tobacco users as a result of the pandemic. The post-ban surveys will query actual behavior.
Table 1: EU Countries exhibiting highest levels of menthol cigarette consumption
Summary results from the pre-ban survey. More than 6,000 menthol cigarette smokers were surveyed in eight countries during the three-week period leading up to the ban. Respondents consumed menthol cigarettes at least once per month over the prior 6 months.
Only about 12% of respondents indicated they plan to quit completely as a result of the ban. The most common “single action” most likely to be taken as a result of the EU menthol cigarette ban included:
Responses vary by country and a range of demographic factors encompassed by the survey. Overall, for those who intend to switch to other menthol tobacco or nicotine products not affected by the ban, 58% indicated they would switch to e-cigarettes, with the highest percentage observed in Poland (78%). About 12% of the respondents indicated they intend to start buying menthol cigarettes from other sources, with more than half of them indicating they would buy from friends/family travelling to countries where menthol cigarettes are available or from online retailers which ship from other countries.
Menthol Ban Awareness and Perception
Overall, 71% of respondents were aware in advance of the ban on menthol cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco products. 57% of the menthol cigarette smoker respondents were strongly/somewhat opposed to the ban, while nearly 20% were strongly/somewhat in favor of the ban. The support rate was lowest in Poland (10%) and Hungary (9%), which have relatively high market share of menthol cigarettes. 34% of opponents of the ban responded that menthol cigarettes are no more harmful than regular tobacco products. In contrast, 33% of supporters of the ban responded that menthol cigarettes encourage young people to smoke, with more than 20% indicating menthol cigarettes encourage women to smoke.
Impact of COVID-19
Nearly 55% of all respondents indicated that COVID-19 has not impacted their consumption of tobacco or nicotine products. More than 29% indicated they have been consuming more tobacco or nicotine products than usual. Of those increasing consumption during the pandemic, almost 68% reported they have been feeling an increased level of stress and anxiety due to the outbreak. Respondents in two countries reported lower levels; Denmark (44%) and Slovakia (40%). For the 16% of respondents that indicated they have been consuming less tobacco or nicotine products than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading reasons were going outside of the house less (47%) and being worried about the risk smoking poses to my health (40%). The former was the leading reason indicated by the 18-44 age groups, while the latter was the leading reason indicated by the 45+ age groups.
Based on menthol cigarette prevalence and intended response, along with mixed indications relative to tobacco or nicotine consumption presented by COVID-19, as reflected by the pre-ban survey, the impact on smoking prevalence in the EU as a result of the menthol cigarette ban will likely be limited. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as consumers change from intent to actual practice. In addition, outcomes will vary by country. The Foundation will sponsor a follow-on survey in the fall.