Massachusetts’ comprehensive flavor ban cut menthol sales by 96% and overall tobacco sales by 25%

While the FDA continues to dither on getting rid of flavored tobacco products, most notably menthol e-cigarettes, states and localities continue to move forward. The tobacco companies continue to argue that such bans don’t work and that people will just switch to other products.

Melody Kingsley, Hannah McGinnes, and their colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health just published “Impact of Massachusetts’ Statewide Sales Restriction on Flavored and Menthol Tobacco Products on Tobacco Sales in Massachusetts and Surrounding States, June 2020” in American Journal of Public Health that shows that these laws work very well.

They collected sales data from checkout bar code scanners for three years before Massachusetts’ comprehensive ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products took effect in June 2020 and for a year after. Once the law took effect, menthol sales dropped 96% and other flavored tobacco product sales dropped 95% (graph above).

While a few people switched to unflavored tobacco products — sales increased 10% — there was still an overall 25% drop in tobacco product sales.

That have public health benefit — not “freedom” — is why the tobacco companies are spending tens of millions of dollars fighting flavor bans here in California and elsewhere.

The Massachusetts people also used sales data to examine the industry’s claims that banning flavors would just lead to massive smuggling from out of state. It didn’t. While they found a transient increase in sales in neighboring New Hampshire, it disappeared after a few months. Sales in other surrounding states dropped.

This study add to the already-robust literature that banning the sale of flavored tobacco products is an inexpensive and powerful way to improve public health.

Here is the abstract:

In June 2020, Massachusetts implemented a first in the nation statewide law that restricts sales of menthol and other flavored tobacco. Since implementation, sales data indicate high retailer compliance. Drastic decreases were seen in sales of all flavored tobacco. Most neighboring states did not see increases in overall tobacco sales, although New Hampshire saw an initial increase in menthol sales, which was not sustained. We found that menthol restrictions are effective and that federal-level legislation is important, as some cross-border sales highlight.

The full citation is: Kingsley M, McGinnes H, Song G, Doane J, Henley P. Impact of Massachusetts’ Statewide Sales Restriction on Flavored and Menthol Tobacco Products on Tobacco Sales in Massachusetts and Surrounding States, June 2020. Am J Public Health. 2022 Aug;112(8):1147-1150. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2022.306879. PMID: 35830660; PMCID: PMC9342823. It is available here.

Published by Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz is a retired Professor of Medicine who served on the University of California San Francisco faculty for 45 years. He conducts research on tobacco and cannabis control and cardiovascular disease/

2 thoughts on “Massachusetts’ comprehensive flavor ban cut menthol sales by 96% and overall tobacco sales by 25%

  1. This is good but I’m a little confused. Surely if menthol products were banned and taken off the market, the drop in sales would be 100% and not just the 96% reported here? Seems odd unless I’m misunderstanding.

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    1. The small amount of remaining sales was probably stores who we not complying with the law. It may have also been selling off left over inventory. 96% compliance is probably better than stop signs.

      Like

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