Until recently, Menthol was considered as a sacred cow in the field of tobacco control around the world. This is about to change starting from Canada, since the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia are planning to make history soon by becoming the first jurisdictions in Canada to ban menthol-flavoured tobacco products.
In Canada, anti-smoking laws are already strict since cigarettes have to be concealed behind panels in convenience stores and smoking is banned in cars carrying children, on patios and in parks. The newest development however is targeting menthol directly, since the Canadian province of Nova Scotia has recently announced its plans to ban menthol tobacco products and hopes the changes will be in place by the end of May, while in Ontario the relevant bill has already passed second reading in the provincial legislature.
However, the approach taken by the two provinces is different to that taken recently at the federal level in Canada, where the federal government proposed regulations which provide for a flavor ban, but exempting menthol. The relevant plan announced by Health Canada announced envisages the further crack down on the sale of flavoured cigarillos, or little cigars, that are often sold in candy or fruit flavours and which have a strong appeal especiallt among young people. This is proven by the results from the 2012-13 Youth Smoking Survey, conducted on behalf of Health Canada, which clearly show that 30% of the students admitting the use of a tobacco product in the previous month, had smoked flavoured little cigars.
However, this decision that exempts menthol from the ban is criticized by many, who also wonder why menthol was also exempted when in 2010 the Canadian federal government decided to ban flavours from cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.
The critics of menthol say that a ban on the substance is long overdue and say that there is no plausible explanation or valid excuse for not banning it. To prove their argument they point to the fact that menthol is an ingredient used by tobacco manufacturers in order to numb smokers to the harsh effects of smoking. A substance that has been used in cigarette making for a long time, and in Canada in particular since the 1930s, menthol, either the one naturally found in mint plants or the one produced synthetically, gives the cigarettes flavored by it a cooling, soothing sensation.
However, scientific evidence exists which proves that when combined with nicotine, menthol has the capacity to desensitize the receptors in the lung’s airways, thus in effect making it easier to smoke. As a result and due to this numbing effect the unpleasant, harsh effects of smoking are masked and smoking becomes more appealing, especially to adolescents, argue the critics of menthol, also pointing to the fact that menthol-flavoured cigarettes have always been among the most popular ways for young people to start smoking.
Although admittedly the percentage of smokers choosing mentholated cigarettes in Canada is relatively low, not more than 5% when compared to the 30% in the USA, many call for the Canadian authorities to synchronize with other authorities across the globe which are planning bans on menthol, such as the EU which will put in force such a ban next year as well as the US, where the FDA is also seriously considering a total ban on mentholated tobacco products.