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Menthol ban: where do we stand three months on?

August 10, 2020


Twelve weeks after the arrival of the ban on mentholated tobacco, Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski speaks to industry bosses to asses what’s been learned so far.

To say recent months have been important ones for the industry would, of course, be an underestimate. The arrival of the menthol ban on 20 May already seems like a different age. Yet, industry figures say the dust is still settling when it comes to analysing the ban’s impact.

“It’s really too early to say what impact the menthol ban has had on sales,” says Duncan Cunningham, corporate affairs director at Imperial and Blu. “Now the menthol ban is in effect, it will take time for shoppers to settle on the nicotine products most suited to them. In the meantime, it’s likely they’ll be looking to trial products from different segments, so it’s important to stock a broad range of products across all the segments to ensure they have ample choice available.

While it remains unclear how menthol ban will affect the market in the long term, tobacco manufacturers have seen enough new regulation arrive to know which stores will be best placed to overcome any short-term challenges.

“Previous legislation has shown that those who take the time to prepare well and to understand the changes are best placed to continue succeeding,” says Mark Yexley, communications director at JTI.

And it is the fate of these retailers’ sales upon which the future of these firms’ profitability relies, meaning stores that reach out – to reorganise ranges or build a successful vaping range – will be enthusiastically assisted. Yexley says: “Retailers are the lifeblood of our industry, and JTI understands the importance of ensuring they have the resources available to them to adequately prepare for legislative changes, as well as understanding their responsibilities, and the importance that any new products have in help them maximise sales and navigate the new terrain.”

Both JTI’s Logic and Imperial’s myBlu join a select group of bestsellers that lead the way in the pod or closed vaping world, with Vype and Juul also part of this elite group of brand leaders.

While closed systems are clearly one of the most successful parts of the current vape market, all manufacturers agree that stores need to offer customers choice in this fast-moving market.

Kate O’Dowd, head of field force for Philip Morris says heated tobacco systems such as IQOS, buoyed by the availability of Menthol Starter Kits, have been one of the winners since 20 May.

“In the UK, we have seen heated tobacco volumes increase more than five-fold over the prior year quarter,” O’Dowd says. “Although this significant growth can’t be exclusively linked to the menthol cigarette ban, there’s no doubt in my mind that by offering IQOS Menthol Kits, which contain the IQOS device and two packs of menthol tobacco sticks, or ‘HEETS’, more smokers have decided to switch to heated tobacco.”

Almost every major brand across the tobacco alternatives market focused on the menthol market at the beginning of 2020 with new menthol flavours made available to tempt customers towards their brand.

Needless to say, Vape Business would rather that all the trade post-menthol ban had switched immediately to tobacco alternatives. There are, inevitably, many former menthol smokers who looked into the combustible tobacco category for their new favourite product.

While many brands such as JTI’s B&H gained new ‘Green’ variants to meet these smoker’s tastes, other companies innovated with flavour cards (Rizla) to give standard cigarettes a mentholated taste.

Kenton Burchell, trading director at Bestway Wholesale says these options have been successful for the wholesaler in the weeks and months following the ban: “Since the menthol ban, there has been an increase in demand of RYO and menthol filters as previous menthol smokers still want the experience of smoking menthol. Menthol cards are also selling well – these are sold separately, and consumers insert into the packet to flavour standard cigarettes.

Brought together, the insight of the industry suggests a marketplace that has been pulled open by the disappearance of menthol cigarettes. Tobacco firms have worked hard to ensure that a satisfying tobacco option is available to smokers, while the broad range of alternatives have been given an extra boost by the health concerns brought about by COVID-19. It’s a fact that has already become a cliché but should not be forgotten: campaign group ASH says one million smokers have given up the habit since the pandemic started. These quitters will be looking for options like vapes to satisfy their cravings.

So, what can stores do? Getting a range that will meet the needs of every former menthol smoker is vital. Yet, with so many options available, perhaps most vital is watching your sales data and speaking to customers. A tailored range (that is flexible when demand changes) will be best suited to meeting customers’ needs and maintaining profitability.


Industry advice

Use staff demonstrations

Duncan Cunningham

Duncan Cunningham – corporate affairs director, Imperial

One particularly effective way of training staff on vaping products is through running product demonstrations using samples of the devices being sold in store. Allowing staff to handle the products themselves and get to know the different components using demonstration models, or sample liquids, will really help them understand more about how they work, so they can pass this information onto customers. Using similar demonstration models can also be a great way to educate customers on the devices before they buy so they leave the store fully informed on how to use a product.




Be ready to answer any questions

Nick Geens – head of Logic and reduced risk products, JTI

One device that retailers should be paying particular attention to, both in terms of the recent ban and in general, is pod mods. Simple and convenient, pod mods offer an ideal starting point for those customers switching to vaping, making them a must-stock in the wake of the ban. With menthol flavour e-liquids potentially serving as an entry point for those existing adult smokers looking for alternative post-ban, we also anticipate the popularity of mint-based flavours to grow as the year progresses. We would advise retailers to stock different options that are visible to menthol smokers who might be considering making the switch to vaping.



Offer a wide range of options

Kate O’Dowd – head of field force, Philip Morris

While quitting is always the best option, for those who can’t or won’t quit, it’s important that they know the facts about alternative products like menthol flavoured vapes and menthol heated tobacco. Retailers can play their part by ensuring that they stock a wide range of products from each of the different alternative nicotine categories, so their customers are provided with that all-important choice. Where permitted, products should be clearly signposted so both regular customers and those passing by know what is on offer. There are also still many former menthol smokers out there who are unaware of the existence of heated tobacco as a great alternative.