As of 1 January 2017, the Canadian province of Ontario banned the distribution and sale of menthol tobacco products. There is limited knowledge about how tobacco companies will adapt their packaging in response to a menthol ban.
We conducted a content analysis of preban traditional menthol (no capsule) and menthol capsule cigarette packs and their postban replacements. Preban and postban packs were matched using tobacco company descriptions of replacement brands in business-to-business marketing materials, advertising on cigarette pack cellophane and a tobacco company website.
A total of 63 menthol (n=30) and ‘non-menthol alternative’ (n=33) cigarette packs were included in the analysis. Approximately half of the preban packs were menthol capsule cigarettes and half traditional menthol cigarettes. While some postban brands continued to convey menthol-like qualities via the colour and/or brand descriptor ‘green’, ’blue’ was the most common colour and brand descriptor postban. Packs shifted from using ‘menthol’ and/or ‘fresh’ as taste descriptor preban to using ‘smooth’ postban; some postban packs had ‘non-menthol alternative’ or ‘without menthol/capsules’ written on their cellophane. The presence of innovative filter technologies continued in the postban samples.
Results suggest that tobacco companies attempted to maintain menthol smokers in Ontario by aggressive preban promotion of menthol capsule cigarettes, continued promotion of innovative filter technologies and by directing smokers to non-menthol alternatives whose packaging both in text and in colour connoted menthol-like qualities (eg, green) and reduced harshness or harm (eg, blue, white, silver, smooth taste).