This June, San Francisco passed a first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol tobacco. While San Francisco’s ban is the strongest in the nation, other cities across the U.S. have taken similar action. The legislation is designed to restrict flavored tobacco products that entice kids and young adults and addict a new generation.
For employers and health plans, a ban on menthol marks a significant opportunity as well. Here’s why.
This type of ban encourages smokers to consider (or reconsider) quitting. For example, in Ontario, Canada, more people quit smoking in the first 30 days following a menthol cigarette ban than expected.
While policy changes can spur smokers to make a quit attempt, quit success increases 2- to 3-fold when proven treatments are used. For employers and health plans, capitalizing on a menthol ban means connecting smokers with an easy-to-access, effective program to help them succeed. With a proven quit smoking program in place, a menthol ban could help many of the smokers in your organization to quit.
The Problem with Menthol Tobacco
Overall, cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has dropped from 21% in 2005 to about 15% currently. But not among menthol smokers.
Menthol cigarettes show a stronger hold for those who smoke them—especially in African American communities where nearly 90% of smokers choose menthol. Hispanics, Asian Americans, women, and young adults are also more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes.
Menthol makes cigarettes easier to smoke, because the chemical compound responsible for the minty taste creates a cooling effect in the throat, reducing the harshness of cigarette smoke and suppressing coughing. Menthol smokers are more addicted and less successful in quitting than smokers of regular cigarettes. Unfortunately, myths and misperceptions about menthol are common, including the incorrect belief that menthol makes it easier to quit.
Widespread Support for a Flavored Tobacco Ban
A national survey found that 1 in 5 Americans agree menthol flavoring in cigarettes should be banned. In the same survey, 39% of all menthol smokers and 44% of African American menthol smokers reported they wanted to quit.
Menthol smokers, and African American menthol smokers in particular, say that if menthol cigarettes were not available that they would be more likely to quit smoking altogether, rather than switch to other non-menthol tobacco products.
Making the most of these sentiments with an effective quit smoking program can lead to higher quit rates and lower healthcare costs.
Right Time, Right Program
To reap the long-term benefits of a menthol ban, it’s critical to have an accessible program in place that’s proven to engage smokers in the ways they prefer. For example, more of today’s tobacco users would rather use text, email, and online chat than traditional phone coaching.
A multimodal program that keeps users engaged in the quitting process, and an online social network that provides round-the-clock peer support, can help translate interest in quitting prompted by a menthol ban into a successful quit.
Interested in learning more about a digital cessation program that provides specialized support to stop tobacco use? Please visit our program page.