Economy & Politics

End of the transition phase: Now it applies: Ban on sales of menthol cigarettes – the end for Helmut Schmidt’s beloved butts

Nobody stands for the menthol cigarette like Helmut Schmidt. Already in 2013, a year before the ban on menthol cigarettes was decided in the EU, the then SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück spread the legend that the former chancellor had 200 sticks of his Reyno brand in the basement of his house in Hamburg – for fear of his beloved smoldering stems not available soon.

Without his menthol cigarettes, Germany’s most famous smoker was never seen until his death in 2015. He smoked two boxes a day on average – even in places where it was not allowed. Long after his death, Reyno boxes were repeatedly found on his grave.

All menthol cigarettes and rolling tobacco affected

From Wednesday, May 20, smokers with a preference for menthol cigarettes and without stock will have a problem: Then, in the EU, a sales ban for all cigarettes and rolling tobacco with the characteristic flavors will come into force. It is the end of a four-year transition phase for products with a market share higher than three percent. According to a study from 2016, this affects 2.1 percent of smokers in Germany, according to a study in the journal “TID” (“Tobacco Induced Diseases”). The rate is significantly higher in other EU countries such as Poland.

Ultimately, the story of Schmidt’s cigarette supply did not come true. “In keeping with the famous Schmidt quote ‘You need – and cigarettes'”, we did indeed find a wealth of cigarettes and snuff boxes in the house in Neubergerweg, “says Ulfert Kaphengst of the Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt Foundation , which inventories the private property of Helmut and Loki Schmidt. “We are still looking for the ‘200 sticks in the basement’ in vain.”

Now the menthol butts are on the collar. However, its end was sealed six years ago when the EU tobacco directive was adopted after laborious negotiations. The rules then came into force in 2016. Since then, two thirds of the front and back of cigarette boxes and rolling tobacco packaging have also been reserved for shock pictures and explanatory warnings. The aim of the rules is to reduce the smoking rate among young people and to reduce “cases of premature mortality”.

But what’s so bad about menthol cigarettes? “The biggest problem with menthol is that it has a cooling and pain-relieving, slightly anesthetic effect,” says Katrin Schaller from the Cancer Prevention Unit of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. This leads to the fact that the normally scratchy smoke is easier to inhale. That makes menthol cigarettes especially attractive for new smokers.

The World Health Organization estimates that eight million people worldwide die prematurely each year from the consequences of cigarette consumption. From a health policy perspective, the EU ban should be welcomed, says Schaller.

“Unfortunate decision”

Jan Mücke, on the other hand, speaks of an “unfortunate decision” and an “arbitrary regulation” at EU level. He himself is a menthol smoker and has stockpiled under his desk, says the managing director of the Federal Association of the Tobacco Industry and Novel Products. The reason for the ban does not convince him. The quota of smoking children and adolescents has been declining for years – despite menthol cigarettes.

In fact, the smoking rate for 12- to 17-year-olds has dropped from 27.5 to 6.6 percent in 2018, according to the Federal Center for Health Education. The proportion of young non-smokers has never been greater. Mücke also does not consider the argument that menthol makes inhaling smoke easier. Protection of children and young people is an absolute priority for his industry, he emphasizes.

The ban on menthol cigarettes does not mean that smokers will have to do without menthol-flavored cigarettes in the future. A retailer points out on its website that various manufacturers with successor products are in the starting blocks. The German company Reemtsma, for example, has been using aroma cards since April. According to a spokesman, these have to be inserted into the cigarette box for at least one hour to release their aroma. Reemtsma is taking four types of cigarettes out of its range on Wednesday. The spokesman said the company had not recently felt an increase in sales of menthol cigarettes.

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