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Why have menthol cigarettes been banned in the UK and when did the law change?

New rules introduced to deter young people from smoking

Sarah Young
Wednesday 20 May 2020 08:36 BST
Printing warnings on individual cigarettes 'may reduce smoking rates'

Menthol cigarettes are now banned in the UK, as strict new legislation comes into force.

Over the last decades there have been a number of significant changes made to smoking laws in the UK.

In 2007, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland implemented a smoking ban that mean people could no longer smoke in enclosed public places, with Scotland passing a similar law in 2006.

That same year, the legal age to buy cigarettes was raised from 16 to 18 and packets have had to feature pictorial health warnings since 2008.

Now, the UK government has introduced a new change to the laws, which means smokers can no longer buy menthol cigarettes.

But why have menthols been banned in the UK and when did the new rules come into effect? Here is everything you need to know.

What types of cigarette are being banned?

The new laws mean that menthol cigarettes, menthol filters and papers, and skinny cigarettes can no longer be produced and sold in stores in the UK.

The ban also means that the production of click dual cigarettes – such as Sterling Dual – that change from normal to menthol, has been halted.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said the new rules mean that no person may produce or supply cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco with:

  • a filter, paper, package, capsule or other component containing flavourings;
  • a filter, paper or capsule containing tobacco or nicotine; or
  • a technical feature allowing the consumer to modify the smell, taste, or smoke intensity of the product.”

When will the ban start?

The new smoking laws were first introduced from 20 May 2020 and form part of the EU Tobacco Product Directive laws, which were introduced on 19 May 2014.

The ban on menthols follows a four-year phasing-out period that saw smaller packs of rolling tobacco banned in 2017, as well as 10 packs of cigarettes.

Why is the ban being introduced?

The ban comes as part of a continued effort to prevent young people from smoking and reduce the number of people taking up the habit.

According to Cancer Research, two-thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 with tobacco smoking causing an estimated 100,000 deaths every year in the UK.

Amanda Sandford, information manager at ASH, welcomed the ban and said she hopes the move will lead to less young people smoking.

“It is naturally hard to inhale smoke and for many the first time they smoke it is repugnant, but people persevere with it and that's when they become addicted,” she explained.

”There is evidence that menthol cigarettes relax the airways and the flavour masks the harshness of the smoke, therefore younger people find it easier to smoke.”

Arnott agrees, adding that the new rules will help the government reach its ambition for a smoke free England by 2030, which is defined by smoking rates below five per cent.

Are menthol cigarettes less harmful?

Sandford explains that there is no evidence to show menthol cigarettes are any less harmful to a person’s health than standard versions.

“It is an absolute myth that menthol cigarettes are better for you,” she said. “All cigarettes are harmful and menthol cigarettes are just as dangerous as normal cigarettes.”

According to the NHS menthol can even increase the addictiveness of nicotine.

“Menthol is an additive that increases the addictiveness of the nicotine, though menthol by itself is not addictive in nature,” it explained.

“Menthol is a mild anaesthetic that numbs your throat and stimulates cold receptors that creates a cooling sensation.”

You can find more information about how to stop smoking here.

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