Canada Bans Menthol
In 2015 Nova Scotia became the first place in the world to specifically ban menthol cigarettes which was soon followed by a similar ban in Alberta. The Canadian provinces introduced these bans to reduce the popularity of cigarettes and discourage new smokers.
Statistics suggest that menthol cigarettes are more likely to appeal to first-time smokers and that users of menthol cigarettes are less likely to quit smoking. Some people even believe that menthol cigarettes are a less harmful alternative to regular cigarettes, although this isn’t true.
The menthol cigarette ban in Nova Scotia and Alberta was intended to reduce the number of new smokers by removing a type of cigarette that appeals to first-time smokers. But critics of the ban warned that it would increase the market for illegal tobacco products without impacting smoking.
Effects Of Ban
Support of the menthol cigarette ban
One report has suggested that the ban was a success and points to statistics showing a decline in the number of illegal cigarette products seized in Nova Scotia. However, this is misleading.
The report shows that the number of illegal products seized by authorities dropped between 2007 and 2018. But 2007 was a high point for the statistics in Nova Scotia and not representative of the impact the menthol cigarette ban had. Since 2012, three years before the ban was introduced, there has been no increase or decline in seized goods.
Criticism of the menthol cigarette ban
Critics suggest that while the menthol ban in Nova Scotia hasn’t led to an increase in illegal cigarettes being seized by the authorities, this might not be representative of the real impact.
No increase in blackmarket products being seized doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no increase in illegal tobacco products.
If the amount of time and resources being spent on combating blackmarket cigarettes has remained the same then the authorities might not have the capacity to seize more. An increased demand can also lead to more successful criminals taking an interest in the new market and using more successful techniques to smuggle cigarettes. This is a problem that authorities face when dealing with drug traffickers.
It is possible for regular cigarettes to be mentholated without the need for large-scale production. This means that people could work around the ban by making their own menthol cigarettes. While this is less likely to happen in Nova Scotia because of the smaller, less dense population, it is a very real possibility when it comes to the FDA vape flavour ban across America.
People making their own e-liquids could be even more of a problem to the authorities than blackmarket juices. Not only would people be able to avoid the FDA vape flavour ban, but the e-liquids made would be unregulated and potentially more harmful.
Tobacco industry working around the ban
Another factor ignored by the report supporting the ban is the way that the tobacco industry has worked around the ban. In Alberta, the second Canadian province to introduce a ban, menthol cigarettes were removed from sale but quickly replaced by menthol alternatives.
Menthol alternatives use similar packaging to menthol cigarettes and promote themselves as “smooth” or even “menthol-free” to consumers. So, after the ban in Alberta, smokers were able to legally buy cigarettes that filled the same niche as menthol but technically complied with the ban.
The reason for Nova Scotia and Alberta banning menthol cigarettes back in 2015 was to reduce the number of new smokers in those provinces. At the time they were among the Canadian provinces with the highest percentage of smokers, has the menthol ban improved these statistics?
The short answer is no. Nova Scotia and Alberta still have some of the highest prevalence of smoking in Canada and there has not been a significant change in the decline of smoking since the menthol cigarette ban. It has only been three years, so its too soon to judge the long term effects, but so far the ban hasn’t had a significant impact on the number of smokers in these provinces.
The 2015 ban on menthol cigarettes in Nova Scotia and Alberta doesn’t do much to prove that a ban would either reduce the popularity of smoking or increase the illegal trade of tobacco products. But we should take this with a pinch of salt when comparing it to the FDA vape flavour ban in the US.
The introduction of menthol-alternative cigarettes in Alberta makes it difficult to judge the effectiveness of the ban. Smokers in this province didn’t need to turn to the blackmarket or be discouraged from smoking.
Statistics from Nova Scotia show no significant change in the seizure of illegal tobacco products after the ban. But there are several possible explanations for this. The consistent level could be because the Nova Scotian authorities were putting the same time and resources into combating illegal tobacco products as before. Or there was no increased demand for blackmarket menthol cigarettes because menthol smokers simply switched to regular cigarettes.
So far there has also been no significant change in the decline of smoking in these two provinces. This could change over time, but so far the menthol cigarette ban hasn’t had a noticeable impact on the number of smokers in Nova Scotia or Alberta.
Menthol alternatives in Alberta and the smaller, less dense population of Nova Scotia make it difficult to compare the Canadian menthol cigarette ban to the US FDA vape flavour ban. The FDA ban will impact the whole United States, not just two provinces and the way people approach vaping is different to how they approach smoking.
But if the FDAs plan is to reduce the number of teenage vapers then the Canadian ban doesn’t help their argument. So far the menthol cigarette ban hasn’t made a difference in the number of smokers in Nova Scotia or Alberta, so, will a ban on vaping flavours really have an impact on the number of underage vapers in America?