Expanding local sales restrictions on flavoured tobacco products to include menthol: retail sales changes in two Minnesota cities

Tob Control. 2022 Jul 28;tobaccocontrol-2022-057392. doi: 10.1136/tc-2022-057392. Online ahead of print.


Background: In 2018, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, expanded existing local sales restrictions on flavoured (non-menthol/mint/wintergreen) tobacco products ('flavour policies') to include menthol/mint/wintergreen-flavoured tobacco products ('menthol policies'). All policies included exemptions for certain store types.

Methods: We obtained weekly retail tobacco product sales for 2015 through 2019 from NielsenIQ for convenience stores and other outlets in the policy jurisdictions and two comparison areas (rest of the state of Minnesota and total USA). We standardised unit sales across product categories and used NielsenIQ-provided descriptors to classify products as menthol (including mint/wintergreen) or flavoured (non-menthol/non-tobacco). Using single group interrupted time series models, we analysed unit sales by product category and by flavour separately for each geography to assess associations between menthol policy implementation and trends in tobacco product unit sales.

Results: Following menthol policy implementation, unit sales of menthol cigarettes and menthol smokeless tobacco decreased in both cities, with smaller decreases in comparison areas. Flavoured cigar sales-which decreased following the flavour policies-further decreased after the menthol policies, while sales of menthol electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) increased in both cities and sales of flavoured ENDS increased in St. Paul.

Conclusion: Expanding flavour policies to include menthol/mint/wintergreen was associated with significant decreases in unit sales of most menthol products and in total unit sales by tobacco product category. Increases in menthol and flavoured ENDS sales in these cities may be associated with legal sales by exempted retailers and/or illicit sales by non-compliant retailers, highlighting opportunities for retailer education and enforcement.

Keywords: electronic nicotine delivery devices; non-cigarette tobacco products; public policy.