Flavored tobacco products dodging EU menthol ban found on sale in Estonia ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Taste card for cigarettes.
Taste card for cigarettes. Source: ERR

In May, cigarettes with menthol disappeared from the stores in the European Union. Nevertheless, cigarettes can still include menthol to some extent. Faster companies have already created innovative solutions for flavoring cigarettes.

The European Commission agreed to ban cigarettes which have different flavors other than tobacco in 2016. Of these, the biggest product group are menthol cigarettes. The main reason for the ban is the growing popularity of the product among young people, also, users consider it healthier, which is not true.

Consumers can now buy replacement products in stores, which don't taste like menthol but resemble the menthol cigarette taste. 

According to the data of the European Commission, the market share of menthol cigarettes was growing every year before the ban. In 2000, 3.4 percent of the smokers preferred menthol cigarettes, then by 2012, the percentage grew to five in 2012. 

It turns out that the menthol itself is not banned in the cigarettes but the so-called "different taste" and several cigarettes still contain menthol. Though, it is in a much smaller scale than before. The taste can differ between different trademarks because it allows for different products.

Aive Telling, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs' Environmental Health and Chemical Safety, told ERR said: "Products with a distinctive taste from tobacco are prohibited, menthol as an ingredient is not prohibited in tobacco products. There is a separate methodology for determining whether a tobacco product has a distinctive taste from tobacco."

Telling said this is determined by the European Commission, either at the request of the Member States or on its own initiative.

Japanese tobacco who produces Camel, Winston and LD trademarks, confirmed that some of the cigarettes that are sold in Estonia contain a little bit of menthol with a weak flavor.

The tobacco law bans other solutions for flavoring tobacco

When in other parts of the world, people have tried to circumvent the law with additional filters or papers containing menthol capsules, these are also not allowed to be sold in Estonia.

The Tobacco Act prohibits the ingredients in both finished cigarettes and roll-your-own smoking tobacco - filters, papers, packaging and capsules - which contain flavorings or fragrances. The law prohibits the use of any technical solution that changes the taste or intensity of a tobacco product.

The restriction, which came into force on May 20, also banned packs of less than 20 cigarettes and packs of a different shape from the EU. Packets of 10 cigarettes have been popular among young people across Europe, as they are generally cheaper and are therefore more accessible to young people.

As a result of the changes, the European Commission expects a two-year reduction of €506 million in medical treatment costs per year. The commission also expects to save almost €165 million a year in productivity losses, such as reimbursement of sick leave due to smoking-related illnesses.

Other tobacco products such as cigars, cigarillos and tobacco-free products are exempt from the taste restriction. At the same time, Estonian stores will continue to sell cigarillos with menthol capsules, which are also recommended for consumers who ask for replacement products.

New flavoring solutions avoid contact with tobacco

Despite the prohibitions, entrepreneurs are finding creative solutions to the hole in the market. As the law prohibits any solution for flavoring tobacco products, strips of cardboard, known as taste cards, went on sale at the beginning of May, which add flavor to cigarettes when added to a packet of cigarettes.

The website of the Finnish brand Frizc which sells taste cards in Estonia lacks any kind of reference to tobacco flavoring, but the cards are exactly the right size for a pack of cigarettes and sellers of tobacco products can recommend them to cigarette buyers.

However, they are not officially intended for flavoring tobacco products, for example, the packaging of one product states that the taste card can be used to flavor tea packs, coffee beans and oat flakes if the consumer wishes that.

Taste cards cost around €1. In addition to menthol, it is possible to buy taste cards with flavors such as melon, lime, liquorice and raspberry. Although tobacco products with other flavors were previously allowed to be sold in the EU in addition to menthol, they were not sold in Estonia.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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