Planning ahead for the menthol ban

John Patterson

With the ban on ‘characterising flavours’ such as menthol in tobacco products due to kick off in May, SLR catches up with JUUL Labs Sales Director UK John Patterson to find out what the ban will mean and how retailers can turn the challenge into an opportunity.

Can you explain which products are covered in the menthol ban?
The ban makes it illegal for any manufacturer to produce, or any retailer to sell, tobacco products containing ‘characterising flavours’ such as menthol in the UK from 20 May 2020. This means that menthol cigarettes and crushball cigarettes will be banned from sale. Retailers who sell on or after this date could be liable for imprisonment, a fine or both. There is no transition period and 19 May is the absolute deadline to sell through menthol tobacco products. Flavoured filters, papers and cards will not be banned as these are not classified as tobacco products.

What opportunities could potentially arise from it?
With around a quarter of all cigarettes sold in the UK being menthol or crushball, the ban could have a large impact on the tobacco category. Adult smokers who use these products in the UK and prefer menthol to tobacco flavour, will no longer be able to buy them. Clearly the ideal situation for such smokers would be to quit tobacco use entirely but, for those who choose to switch to alternatives in the e-cigarette and vaping category, they may be interested in some of the options including menthol and mint flavour products that are available.

How prepared do you think retailers are ahead of the ban?
Many adult smokers may be unaware of the menthol ban so it’s important every retailer is aware and prepared. There is still time to inform customers but – as with previous legislation (tobacco display ban and standardised packaging) – retailers should be planning for this now rather than leaving it to the last minute. Getting customers onboard early by talking to them and preparing them for the ban will be key.

Some companies have brought out products that will provide menthol options for smokers after 20 May. Are JUUL launching new products in the near future?
I cannot comment on what other manufacturers are doing but tobacco related diseases kill 10,000 people a year in Scotland and a further 85,000 elsewhere in the UK. Our mission is to improve adult smokers’ lives and eliminate cigarette usage rather than encourage it. For menthol smokers we have Glacier Mint in our portfolio of flavoured JUULpods in 18mg/ml and 9mg/ml nicotine strengths. Glacier Mint is one of four JUULpods in the JUUL Starter Kit and is the best-selling flavour within the JUULpods range. It is also the UK’s top selling refill pack [IRI Dec 2019]. We will also be launching a new JUULpod flavour soon, so watch this space…

What is your best merchandising advice when it comes to menthol cigarette substitutes after the ban?
The best advice is to make sure adult smokers are aware of the mint and menthol alternatives available. This means increasing the number of menthol facings in vape display units and if possible, create a dedicated display of menthol vaping and other nicotine products to signpost menthol alternatives for smokers. Also don’t ignore other flavours. Smokers up to now have had two main flavour choices – tobacco and menthol. In vaping, they have a much wider spectrum of flavours to try, and many may want to experience other flavours beyond tobacco and menthol.

What are your top tips retailers should take on board when preparing themselves and their customers for the ban?

The key P.L.A.N.

  • Preparation – Make sure that you advise adult smokers who would normally purchase menthol cigarettes about the ban
  • Leverage – Use well-known brands to signpost menthol alternatives and use manufacturers’ point of sale to convey the switching opportunity.
  • Availability – Ensure that you are well stocked with a range of Mint and Menthol flavoured refills in varying nicotine strengths across the major brands.
  • NPD – investigate other areas such as patches, lozenges, pouches and gum as vaping may not be the right alternative for every adult menthol smoker.