UNC Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program faculty Justin Byron, PhD, Chineme Enyioha, MD, MPH, and Adam Goldstein, MD, MPH, have published a lead commentary in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research outlining the communication research needed to accompany landmark regulation banning menthol in tobacco products.
Over a decade ago, fruit and candy flavorings that were popular with youth were banned from cigarettes, but an exception was made for menthol flavorings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now working on adding menthol to this list of banned tobacco flavors, since menthol makes cigarettes more appealing to youth and harder to quit. This regulation could go a long way in helping the 19 million Americans who currently smoke menthol cigarettes quit smoking. Such regulation is especially important for the 150,000 middle and high school students in the U.S. who use menthol cigarettes, and for African Americans who smoke cigarettes, the majority of whom smoke menthol.
In a recent commentary in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, the official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), UNC Family Medicine’s faculty members Justin Byron, PhD, Chineme Enyioha, MD, MPH, and Adam Goldstein, MD, MPH, express the urgent need for communication research on how to encourage and support menthol users in quitting.
The FDA proposed new rules on April 28, 2022, to eventually ban the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. When a menthol ban is enacted nationally, people who currently smoke menthol cigarettes could merely switch to a non-menthol brand. In order to help people quit tobacco for good, the UNC researchers propose communications research be done now to inform media campaigns that would support the menthol ban and encourage quitting combustible tobacco use rather than brand switching.
“While many menthol smokers say they would quit if there’s a menthol ban, many others say they might simply switch to other non-menthol tobacco products instead,” Byron said. “That’s a major problem – if people just switch cigarette brands, they don’t benefit from the policy. Communication research can show the FDA how to best support and encourage menthol smokers to quit, the major goal behind the policy.”
Goldstein adds, “This is a policy that policymakers and researchers have been seeking for decades, as it will benefit millions of addicted smokers. These smokers need information and support. The key will be to roll the new policy out with clear messaging that gives smokers the resources they need.”
The commentary discusses how the policy is presented to the public matters greatly in its real-world success. Proper communication research on the proposed menthol ban can help dispel misinformation and misunderstandings, protect youth from starting tobacco use, and help smokers of all ages quit.
The article suggests five topics for research: determining how best to name and frame the policy, learning how to encourage menthol smokers to quit rather than switch brands, finding out how to best bolster cessation support, determining who should be the messenger with the public, and planning how to evaluate communications that would accompany the policy.
Read the full commentary, “The Role of Communication Research to Support Policy Change: The U.S. Menthol Ban,” here.