Tobacco industry accused of flavour capsule ‘tricks’ to lure young smokers

29 October 2018:
By Melissa Davey
Source: The Guardian

The tobacco industry is “reverting to tricks and stunts” in a bid to attract young smokers, the head of the Public Health Association of Australia has said, after analysis revealed cigarettes with flavour-changing capsules were the fastest growing segment of the combustible tobacco market.

Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin described the modification of tobacco products to make them more appetising as “an extraordinary assault on public health”.

“Any modification to tobacco products which clearly aim to increase rates of smoking and target young smokers should be ruthlessly resisted,” he said.

“Australia has the lowest rates of smoking in the world among young people, and we now have a situation where more then 97% of children under 18 are never-smokers. The tobacco industry is clearly seeking to reverse that success and is reverting to tricks and stunts which should not be tolerated.”

An analysis published in the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control on Monday found the market for cigarettes with flavour-changing capsules in the filter had “grown exponentially since being introduced in 2007”.

The capsules, fruit and mint flavours, are also growing in popularity for roll-your-own cigarettes. The market share for the products increased between 2014 and 2017 in 52 of the 67 countries where they are sold and monitored by tobacco analyst Euromonitor.

“Despite the success of this product innovation, there remains a dearth of research on capsule cigarettes,” the analysis, led by the University of Stirling in the UK, found.

“Nevertheless, existing research with adult smokers in the UK, USA and Australia consistently shows a preference for capsules among young adults, and more than half of past-month smokers aged 12–17 years in Australia reported having tried a capsule cigarette. Taste, choice of flavours, enjoyment from clicking the capsule, stylishness and lower perceived harm appear key reasons for using capsule cigarettes.”

Slevin said an urgent national strategy was needed to respond to the growing market, in addition to the tobacco control acts in each state and territory. Research published this month from New Zealand’s Otago University found young non-smokers and former smokers saw flavour capsules as more appealing, and were more likely to experiment with these than with unflavoured cigarettes.

Quit Victoria policy manager Kylie Lindorff urged the state government to take immediate action to ban the sale of tobacco products with squeezable capsules of flavour. The products were designed to make smoking seem more fun for young people and non-smokers, and to taste better, she said.

“Tobacco control organisations have been fighting for decades to reach the point we are at – where young Australians are less interested than previous generations in trying or taking up smoking ,” Lindorff said.

“But the tobacco industry is working incredibly hard to change this by targeting young people with ‘fun’ and ‘cool’ products such as flavour capsule cigarettes which, when the filter is squeezed, release a flavour that makes tobacco smoke more palatable.”

Flavoured cigarettes are now widely available in Australia, with almost all major brands including at least one product with flavour squeeze balls in their range.

“The product range and popularity of flavour capsule cigarettes will only continue to grow unless governments take serious action to ban these products,” Lindorff said.

To date, only Canada, Ethiopia, Senegal and Uganda have banned flavoured tobacco products. They will be banned in Brazil by March 2020 and across much of Europe by May 2020.