The use of flavored cigarettes has increased in many countries because of the inclusion of one or more frangible flavor-changing capsules in the filter. Research suggests that these “capsule” cigarettes appeal most to youth, but little is known about how prevalent their use is among children.
A cross-sectional school survey was conducted between September and December 2019 with 11–16 year-olds (N = 119 388) from 198 secondary schools across Wales; the sample represented approximately two-thirds of all 11–16 year-olds in the country. The sample was asked about smoking behavior, with a quarter (N = 26 950) also asked about awareness of menthol cigarettes, and use of menthol and menthol capsule cigarettes if a current smoker (N = 1447).
Current smoking prevalence was 5.7% among the entire sample and 5.9% among the analytical sample (those also asked about menthol and menthol capsule cigarettes). For the analytical sample, almost all current smokers (93.2%) were aware of menthol cigarettes, with three-fifths (60.5%) reporting having used menthol cigarettes in the past 30 days (42.3% capsule cigarettes, 18.2% noncapsule cigarettes). In comparison to nonmenthol smokers, those using menthol cigarettes (capsule and noncapsule) were more likely to be frequent smokers, with those using menthol capsule cigarettes more likely to have smoked for longer.
While past research suggests that flavored cigarettes appeal to youth, this study shows just how popular these products, and capsule cigarettes, in particular, were among young smokers in Wales. It also raises questions about why capsule cigarettes have received such limited public health attention.
That three in five 11–16 year-old smokers reported using menthol cigarettes in the past 30 days highlights how appealing these products are to young people, particularly capsule cigarettes, used by seventy percent of menthol smokers. Capsule cigarettes are one of the most successful tobacco product innovations in decades, even in countries with comprehensive bans on tobacco marketing and standardized packaging. The dearth of research on capsule cigarettes is a failure of global public health. Evaluation of the ban on characterizing flavors in the United Kingdom and across the European Union is critical.