OBJECTIVE: To test how a potential US ban of menthol products or replacement with 'green' products and ads could influence tobacco purchases.
METHODS: US adult menthol smokers (N=1197) were recruited via an online panel and randomly assigned to complete a shopping task in one of four versions (experimental conditions) of the RTI iShoppe virtual store: (1) no ban, (2) replacement of menthol cigarettes and ads with green replacement versions, (3) menthol cigarette ban and (4) all menthol tobacco product ban. Logistic regressions assessed the effect of condition on tobacco purchases.
RESULTS: Participants in the menthol cigarette ban (OR=0.67, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.92) and all menthol product ban conditions (OR=0.60, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.83) were less likely to purchase cigarettes of any type than participants in the no ban condition. Participants in the green replacement (OR=1.74, 95% CI 1.13 to 2.70), menthol cigarette ban (OR=3.40, 95% CI 2.14 to 5.41) and all menthol product ban conditions (OR=3.14, 95% CI 1.97 to 5.01) were more likely to purchase a cigarette brand different from their usual brand than participants in the no ban condition.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that menthol bans could have great public health impact by reducing cigarette purchases. However, tobacco marketing strategies, such as creating green (or other replacement) versions of menthol cigarettes, may undermine public health benefits of a menthol ban by prompting purchases of non-menthol cigarettes. Our findings highlight the importance of taking tobacco marketing tactics into consideration in tobacco product regulation.