12.8 Menthol and confectionery/liqueur flavoured cigarettes

A large proportion of Australian cigarette brands incorporate flavour additives, according to the manufacturers' ingredients disclosures. In most brands flavour additives have only background effects. That is, the flavour additives are intended to produce only minor changes to the flavour of the cigarette, with the tobacco flavours remaining dominant. However there are two kinds of cigarette where flavour additives are used at much higher levels. These are menthol cigarettes and confectionery/ liqueur cigarettes.

Menthol brands are infused with between 16mg and 40mg of menthol (a volatile extract of peppermint) during packaging and it spreads throughout the cigarette.1 When menthol cigarettes are smoked, the menthol in the tobacco and filter is vaporized and carried with the mainstream smoke, where it blocks irritation receptors and stimulates cold receptors in the mouth and throat, creating sensations of freshness, as well as making the smoke seem smoother.2 As the menthol taste is relatively persistent, it also blocks the lingering stale after-taste of tobacco, which many smokers find unpleasant, especially younger smokers.

Menthol cigarettes have been around since the 1930s, when they were promoted as a 'medicinal' cigarette, useful for being able to continue smoking when one had a cough or cold.3 In more recent years, advertising for menthol cigarettes has focused on their 'smoother'/ 'fresher' smoke, although there have still been secondary marketing points concerning implied "healthiness" or reduced harm.4 Menthol cigarettes have also long been promoted as a 'feminine' cigarette within the Australian market. Alpine, manufactured by Philip Morris, was strongly marketed to younger women in particular, prior to the current regime of advertising bans and were also 'stealth marketed' to young women at fashion events after the bans were in place.5–8

In the United States, menthol cigarettes have held around a quarter of the total market since 2000.9 They have even higher shares of the African American and teenage markets. African Americans have higher rates of smoking related disease than other Americans, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes per day on average. There is concern that menthol cigarettes may encourage African American men to smoke very intensively because cues to cease inhaling are blocked by the sensory effects of menthol.3 In the case of teenagers in the United States, the primary concern is that menthol cigarettes function as 'starter cigarettes' – reducing the unpleasant sensations of cigarette smoking sufficiently for teenagers to more easily make the transition for being a 'starter' or experimental smoker to being a regular smoker, then going on to have an addiction.10 The proportion of U.S. teenagers smoking menthol cigarettes has increased in recent years, rising from 37% in 2002 to 44% in 2005.11 Hersey, Nonnemaker and Homsi (2010) 10 reported that in 2006, 52% of middle school students and 43% of high school students in the United States usually smoked menthol cigarettes, providing further evidence of their role as 'starter cigarettes.'

In Australia, menthol smoking rates are much lower than in the United States and appear to have declined considerably in recent years. Menthol cigarettes now have around 6% of total market share in Australia and market share is now highest among older women (ITC Australia survey, Wave 7, 2008, unpublished data). It appears that menthol cigarettes used to be much more popular among younger women and girls in Australia and that in the past a sizeable proportion of female adolescents experimenting with menthol cigarettes went on to become life-long menthol smokers. However, far fewer female adolescents are experimenting with menthol cigarettes nowadays so very few overall make the transition to being long-term menthol smokers. It is plausible that targeted advertising to young women and teenage girls that stressed the 'feminine-ness' of menthol brands was necessary to make menthol cigarettes attractive to that section of the market and that increasing advertising restrictions took away a crucial source of appeal. It is also plausible that the spectacular rise of the 'low tar' cigarette in Australia provided an alternative 'smoother' cigarette that proved more appealing to new generations of 'starter smokers' in Australia.

Whereas menthol cigarettes preceded 'low tar' cigarettes by several decades, liqueur/ confectionery flavoured cigarettes represent a very recent and short-term development in Australia. They first appeared on the Australian market around 2004-5 and were then subject to concerted action by the Commonwealth and State Health Ministers in 2008 when there was strong agreement to ban them.

Some liqueur/ confectionery cigarettes are produced in the same manner as menthol cigarettes, with volatile flavour essences diffused throughout the cigarette. Other liqueur/ confectionary cigarettes have a flavour pellet embedded in the filter.12 As smoke is drawn through the filter, the casing of the pellet dissolves and the flavour essences are vaporized into the smokestream.13 Development of soluble pellet technology may explain the sudden appearance of liqueur/ confectionery brands around the world in the few years after 2000.

The sale of fruit and confectionary flavoured cigarettes is now prohibited in South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. In Western Australia packages cannot be displayed by retailers if they contain (or have words, pictures or images that suggest they contain) fruit or confectionary flavoured cigarettes. The Victorian Government has announced its intention to provide the Minister with the power to ban youth-orientated tobacco products and packages (including fruit and confectionery flavoured cigarettes) from 1 January 2010.14 The ban on liqueur/ confectionery cigarettes was prompted primarily by the belief that they were a 'youth-oriented' product. Further, like 'low tar' and menthol cigarettes, liqueur/ confectionery flavour additives are likely to facilitate initiation among youth by masking the harshness of tobacco smoke in comparison with a 'full-flavour' cigarette.15

Recent news and research

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