Although menthol cigarettes are a starter product for youth, menthol was exempted from the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, which banned all other characterizing flavors. Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, implemented menthol tobacco sales restrictions in 2018 to advance health equity for youth, African American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ), and other communities adversely affected by menthol. This evaluation assesses the policy impact on youth access to menthol tobacco, exposure to menthol advertising, and tobacco use. A core group of youth aged 14 to 17 years (n = 30) was recruited from Minneapolis and Duluth to gather data through photo voice and peer interviews 2 months before and after policy implementation. This evaluation shares the results of focus groups with these core youth where they reflected on what they observed in the community and heard from peers. The core youth identified and categorized emergent themes using the evaluation questions. Following the focus groups, the evaluation staff used these preliminary themes and coded remaining transcripts. The core youth had mixed reactions to the impact of policies on access and use because many tobacco users in their age group obtain tobacco informally through peers, family members, and online. They observed decreases in retail advertising of menthol cigarettes, although many felt e-cigarettes and online advertising were more significant issues for their age group. Findings show a need for increased education and more comprehensive policy approaches, including addressing use of flavored e-cigarettes, online tobacco sales, and informal access, making youth access to tobacco more difficult.
Keywords: evaluation; menthol; policy; tobacco; youth.