BACKGROUND: Ontario, Canada prohibited menthol tobacco product sales beginning 1 January 2017. We measured retail sales of menthol cigarettes and possible substitute products before and after policy implementation in Ontario.
METHODS: We licensed retail scanner data for tobacco product sales in Ontario and British Columbia (BC), a comparison province without a menthol tobacco policy at that time. We assessed changes in per capita unit sales (per 1000 people) from pre-policy (January-June 2016) to post-policy (January-June 2017) periods. Classification of cigarettes as menthol or non-menthol, or having menthol-suggestive descriptors ('green', 'blue', 'silver' and 'fresh'), was based on scanner data.
RESULTS: Ontario menthol cigarette sales decreased 93%, from 596 to 40 packs per capita compared with a 2% decrease (696 to 679 packs per capita) in BC. Menthol capsule cigarette sales remained low in Ontario (<1% of total cigarette sales) but rose sixfold in BC. Although cigar sales data were unavailable, substitution appeared minimal; sales of non-menthol cigarettes increased 0.4% in Ontario (11 470 to 11 519 packs per capita) while vaping product sales decreased. Ontario had a larger increase in sales of cigarettes with menthol-suggestive descriptors (11% increase) than BC (3% increase). In Ontario, nearly all (>99%) pre-policy sales of cigarettes with 'green' menthol-suggestive descriptors were menthol cigarettes, but post-policy, 94% of 'green' cigarettes sold were non-menthol.
CONCLUSIONS: Ontario's menthol policy was associated with a decrease in retail sales of cigarettes classified as menthol, with little evidence of product substitution. Understanding changes in sales of cigarettes with menthol-suggestive descriptors would be informative.