The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced its intention to pursue a federal ban on menthol cigarettes. This qualitative study assessed reactions to a potential menthol cigarette ban among people who smoke menthol cigarettes.
As part of a laboratory study examining menthol flavor regulations, we conducted follow-up interviews with participants who smoke menthol cigarettes (N = 35). We explored the following topics: (1) menthol cigarette risk perceptions; (2) knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of menthol cigarette regulations; and (3) anticipated behavior if menthol cigarettes were banned. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, double-coded, and analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis.
Many participants thought menthol cigarettes carried more health risks than non-menthol cigarettes. Some participants said regulators wanted to ban menthol cigarettes because they appeal to youth. Others thought a ban would be good for public health because fewer people, particularly youth, would smoke. Several voiced skepticism about banning only menthol cigarettes rather than all cigarettes. Most said they would use other products, including electronic cigarettes or non-menthol cigarettes, but many also thought a menthol ban could motivate them or others to quit smoking.
Banning menthol cigarettes could lead some people who smoke menthol cigarettes to switch to potentially less harmful products, like e-cigarettes, or quit smoking, which would likely benefit public health; however, others may simply transition to non-menthol cigarettes. As regulators move forward with banning menthol cigarettes, communication campaigns explaining the public health benefits, potentially focusing on the benefits for youth, should be part of the policy implementation plan.