Menthol cigarettes ban criticised as a “gross restriction of consumer choice”


In this day and age we are well aware of the dangers associated with smoking. London has, like most major cities around the world, taken a range of steps over recent years to protect its citizens and workers with various measures. Of course, smoking was banned in pubs and bars back in 2007, and since then, there have been calls for more dedicated smoke-free zones, for example in the city’s parks.  

However, the latest piece of anti-smoking legislation has created more criticism than praise. In a law that passed almost unnoticed while we were distracted by other health-related matters, menthol cigarettes were banned in May 2020. Lawmakers say the move will help discourage youngsters from taking up the habit. Smokers, however, disagree, and claim this is just another unwarranted restriction being imposed on a persecuted minority who are doing nothing illegal. 

No impact whatsoever

Smokers’ rights organisation FOREST cites data from Canada, which banned menthol back in 2015. The move prompted more youngsters to buy non-menthol cigarettes instead, but had “no impact whatsoever” on youth smoking rates. These conclusions had almost five years of data to support them. Interestingly, while the UK’s menthol ban is part of an EU-wide move, across the Atlantic, the USA has shown no indication that it intends to ban menthol cigarettes. 

FOREST claims the only people the ban affects is existing smokers who choose to smoke menthol cigarettes, some of whom have been doing so for decades. The organisation’s Director, Simon Clarke, described the ban as “a gross restriction on consumer choice that will do nothing to stop children smoking.”

Other alternatives

The Canada example certainly suggests that Mr Clarke might have a point. When teenagers take up smoking, it is typically as an act of rebellion. Intuitively, making menthol cigarettes unavailable is not going to change their minds, and they will simply choose regular cigarettes instead.

Those existing menthol smokers Mr Clarke mentioned seem certain to go down the same road. While some might take the ban as the push they needed to quit the smoking habit, the vast majority will simply switch to regulars or opt for the flavoured papers and filter tips that are available for hand rolling.   

Are smokers’ rights being ignored?

Around 15 percent of London’s adult population smokes – that equates to almost a million people. We noted earlier the many measures that the city has taken to protect people from the health risks associated with smoking. Many smokers have applauded these moves and prefer to go outside for a smoke –including a certain member of the royal family. 

At the same time, we must remember that smoking is not illegal and a million is a lot of people. It is important that anti-smoking rules are made for the right reasons and bring about the desired results. Does the menthol cigarette ban meet those criteria? FOREST certainly believes not, and the evidence the organisation has provided is difficult to argue with.