EXPERTS are calling for a fresh crackdown on smokers – ahead of a ban on menthol cigarettes.
Campaigners want the government to raise taxes on cigarillos to discourage young people from taking up smoking.
It comes as a new mentholated cigarillo brand was launched by a Japanese tobacco company.
Menthols, menthol rollies and skinny cigarettes will be banned under new smoking laws due to come into effect in May.
It’s part of a four year phasing-out period that stems from the new EU Tobacco Product Directive laws, which entered into force in May 19, 2014 and became applicable in EU countries on May 20, 2016.
The gradual phase-out was started to deter future generations from smoking.
But charities warn that the new brand of cigarillos – a short, narrow cigar – get round the new legislation.
Unlike conventional cigarettes, cigarillos, which have an outer wrapping of tobacco leaf, are exempt from the menthol ban, as well as from existing legislation requiring cigarettes to be sold in minimum pack sizes of 20 and in plain standardised packaging.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, and Cancer Research UK are calling on the Chancellor to raise taxes on the products.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “Getting round the ban by launching a mentholated cigarillo, which is essentially a cigarette wrapped in tobacco leaf, is breathtakingly cynical even for the tobacco companies.
“Their own research tells them menthol makes it easier for young people to start smoking because it masks the harshness when they first try to inhale.
“Legislating to extend the menthol ban to cigarillos will take time.
“In the interim the Chancellor should use the Budget to increase the tax on cigarillos to be no less than that on cigarettes, to help discourage young people with limited disposable income from buying these products.”
Explaining the new rules last year, Deborah said that “no person may produce or supply cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco with:
(a) a filter, paper, package, capsule or other component containing flavourings;
(b) a filter, paper or capsule containing tobacco or nicotine; or
(c) a technical feature allowing the consumer to modify the smell, taste, or smoke intensity of the product.”
Cancer Research UK says that two-thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 – the beginning of an addiction which will kill up to two in three long-term smokers.
Menthol cigarettes are flavoured with compound menthol, a substance which triggers cold-sensitive nerves in the skin without actually providing a drop in temperature.
The government hopes the law will reduce the number of smokers across the EU by 2.4 million.
Brexit is unlikely to affect the new legislation in the UK, according to ASH.
Deborah said: “The regulations will be reviewed this year but given that the UK goes further than the EU requires on tobacco regulations e.g. we ban all advertising, and point of sale displays, and require plain packaging, it is unlikely that leaving the EU will lead to a weakening of our tobacco regulations.”
Tobacco products have already been hidden under the counter and stripped of branding.
At the time, four of the world’s biggest tobacco firms launched a last-ditch legal bid against the move, but it failed.
They claimed the new regulations violated several UK and EU laws and would destroy their property rights by making products indistinguishable from each other.