Tobacco makers still trying to make a mint from Irish menthol market

Big tobacco seems confident it can sidestep this month’s EU ban on menthol cigarettes

The Irish menthol market was worth up to €250 million annually before the ban. Photograph: iStock

The Irish menthol market was worth up to €250 million annually before the ban. Photograph: iStock

 

Few industries navigate regulatory waters as treacherous as those surrounding big tobacco. Cigarettes are possibly the most tightly controlled consumer products in the world. The seaworthiness of the approach of certain tobacco companies to this month’s ban on menthol cigarettes looks set to be tested.

The ban was brought in to help prevent children taking up smoking, and to help menthol cigarette smokers to quit.

Minister for Health Simon Harris wants the European Union to intervene with tobacco companies that he believes have attempted to “undermine” the ban with replacement cigarettes that still have menthol flavouring added.

The companies concerned, including Silk Cut maker Japan Tobacco International and Marlboro maker Philip Morris, believe they are in compliance with the new ban, which came into effect in Ireland and across Europe on May 20th.

JTI, for example, suggested to the The Irish Times that it still adds menthol flavouring to its new brand, Silk Cut Choice Green. But it says it believes this is still permitted “provided that the use of such flavourings does not produce a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco”.

What is the point of adding menthol flavouring if not to impart a result consistent with the additive? As a line of argument, it’s difficult to understand.

Cantillon sampled the new brand, which JTI has told retailers is a “substitute” product for after the ban, and adjudged that it was evocative of a very mild mint-like flavour. Others may disagree.

Harris says that, ultimately, it is up to the State’s Environmental Health Service to adjudge whether or not individual products are in breach of the ban, and the body has not yet released findings of a breach.

Menthol cigarettes are big business in Ireland. The menthol market was worth up to €250 million annually before the ban, an estimated 18 per cent of the total market. No wonder some companies want to launch substitute products to stay in the game. They had better be confident that they stand up to the regulatory scrutiny that seems to be on their way.

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