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Who will win the tobacco wars?

The confrontation between tobacco manufacturers and authorities around the world began as soon as these same authorities wished to take tight control of the companies’ revenues. Yes, basically all these confrontations are aimed at the survival of competitors from the market, rather than real concern for our health or the environment. In May 2020, the EU and England banned the sale of menthol cigarettes and it was the most powerful blow to tobacco companies in the history of the tobacco industry. Two and a half years have passed and who do you think came out the winner in this battle?

The “menthol ban” came out a bit lopsided right off the bat. Apparently lawyers in the EU are as bad as politicians. Or maybe they weren’t going to ban anything seriously and the goal was to stimulate the market. Initially “menthol” was banned only in cigarettes, which gave the tobacco companies very wide operational space. The second thing that almost slowed down the “menthol” legislation already at the start was the lengthy wording. For example, after the announcement of the forthcoming bill (2016), it took another five years to decipher the concept of “characteristic taste,” which was used to define menthol flavor.

And it took tobacco companies less than a year, starting in 2016, to present an alternative to the suffering public by the time the ban was introduced. And an alternative that did not conflict in any way with the new legislation. The production of menthol sticks for IQOS didn’t even have to change their shoes, because the ban didn’t apply to this product. But tobacco companies also demonstrated a creative approach to the problem)).

For example, the company Imperial Brand (former Imperial Tobacco) already in the middle of 2017 offered smokers of self-smoked tobacco a menthol filter. The novelty is considered an accessory and does not fall under the ban. And a year and a half later, L&B Blue cigarettes hit the market with a new air filter, stiffer than regular cigarettes and a cavity in acetate fiber, like a mouthpiece. What’s the connection? The 2017 Menthol filter matched the novelty mouthpiece perfectly.)

Another innovative product is the “flavor cards.” In essence, this is a strip of cardboard soaked in flavoring that would give the “card” flavor enough to put it in a pack of cigarettes or in a tobacco pouch. The first such “cards,” mint and menthol flavored, appeared under the brand Rizla back in 2018.

Immediately after the introduction of the ban, the Finnish company Frizc offered its own versions of “cards” in menthol, lime, liquorice, raspberry, and other flavors. It’s funny, but until 2020 Frizc is not known to produce tobacco-related products. And the company offers its own versions of “cards” for flavoring “tea, coffee and even oatmeal”, but, perhaps by accident, the size of their “cards” perfectly coincides with the size of a cigarette pack).

As an alternative to menthol cigarettes, in varying degrees of mass, such products as flavoring sprays and drops are also offered, for independent flavoring of tobacco or cigarettes. There is no way to find fault with this, since all the “blame” for “unintended use” lies with the end consumer).

And the most logical alternative, which the law against menthol did not provide, is to change the traditional carrier. Immediately after the introduction of the ban throughout the EU and England appeared… Cigarillos with both menthol and flavor capsules in the filter! And under Euro standards, and under our, Russian, any cigarette wrapped in natural tobacco or surrogate leaf can be called a cigarillo. In fact, they differ from cigarettes only by their cover, and from cigars only by their physical size.

Almost six months before the legislation went into effect, JTI launched the Stirling Dual Capsules cigarillos with a menthol capsule in an acetate filter. Six months later, Scandinavian Tobacco offered English smokers an alternative, the Signature Dual cigarillos, which almost mimicked JTI’s product. Imperial Brands in the summer of 2020 included a brand of JPS Players cigarillos with a menthol capsule in its portfolio, also at a better price.

And right now, “tobacco analysts” are concluding that British smokers “have begun to turn more often to a better product – cigarillos.” What explains this selective “blindness”? Well, the first conclusion to be drawn is that no one is going to win this war. The business of tobacco and anti-tobacco has long since merged, it is simply a transfer of money from one pocket to another. Nothing more. And us? We, as smokers, have always been nothing more than pawns on the board of someone else’s game.

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