The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed rules for banning menthol cigarettes and all flavoured cigars.
About Menthol cigarettes:
Menthol cigarettes are flavored with menthol, which triggers the cold-sensitive nerves in the skin.
Menthol has a cooling and anesthetic (or pain killing) effect.
This also decreases the cough reflex and can soothe the dry throat feeling that many smokers have.
As a result, menthol smokers may inhale more deeply, hold the smoke in the lungs longer, and get more exposure to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke.
Menthol is a flavor additive with a minty taste and smell.
In addition to tasting good, it has a cooling and painkilling effect.
Cigarette manufacturers add it to cigarette filters to cover up the unpleasant taste of tobacco and make cigarettes more appealing.
Menthol is a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and other similar plants.
Menthol can also be produced in a lab.
Even though many brands of cigarettes are marketed as “menthol cigarettes,” almost all cigarettes sold in the U.S. contain at least some natural or lab-created menthol.
What are the health risks of flavored cigars?
Flavored cigars, or cigarillos, come in flavors like cherry, grape and vanilla. They are typically available at convenience stores and gas stations for a very low price.
Like menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars were not covered by the 2009 flavor ban. Cigars are not regulated in the same way as cigarettes.
Removing these products would be an important step in reducing the overall impact of tobacco on public health, especially in communities where they are popular.
How would a similar ban be likely to play out in India?
If India were to ban menthol and other flavoured cigarettes, the impact might be limited, given that chewing tobacco and bidi are the most common forms of tobacco use.
India has 7 crore tobacco users aged 15 and above, as per the last available Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2016-17) — 18% of the population uses smokeless tobacco, 7% smoke, and 4% use both.
Banning products has logistical issues as well. “Banning is not the solution. Things will be smuggled in.”
How many young Indians are tobacco users?
Tobacco use among 15-24-year-olds has been reducing in India, from 18.4% in GATS-1 (2009-10) to 12.4% in GATs-2 (2016-17), a relative reduction of 33%.
On the other hand, there has been an increase in tobacco use among American youth, driven mostly by e-cigarettes.
More than 1 in 4 high school students used tobacco product in the previous 30 days in 2018, with e-cigarette use increasing from 11.7% to 20.8% among high school students from 2017 to 2018, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In India, e-cigarettes are banned.
A recent study from Canada shows that after menthol cigarettes were banned, 8% more menthol smokers quit smoking than non-menthol smokers.
Another modelling based study from Singapore, where use of flavoured cigarettes is predominant, showed that in 50 years, smoking prevalence will increase from 12.7% to 15.2% if flavoured cigarettes are not banned, go down by 10.6% if there is a complete ban, and remain the same if there is a partial ban.