Introduction: Flavors can mask the harshness of tobacco and make it appealing to young people. This study assessed flavored and menthol tobacco product sales at the national and state levels.
Methods: Universal Product Code tobacco sales data collected by Nielsen were combined for convenience stores and all-outlets-combined during October 22, 2011-January 9, 2016. Products were characterized as flavored, menthol, or non-flavored/non-menthol. Total unit sales, and the proportion of flavored and menthol unit sales, were assessed nationally and by state for seven tobacco products. Joinpoint regression was used to assess trends in average monthly percentage change.
Results: Nationally, the proportion of flavored and menthol sales in 2015 was as follows: cigarettes (32.5% menthol), large cigars (26.1% flavored), cigarillos (47.5% flavored, 0.2% menthol), little cigars (21.8% flavored, 19.4% menthol), chewing tobacco (1.4% flavored, 0.7% menthol), moist snuff (3.0% flavored, 57.0% menthol), and snus (88.5% menthol). From 2011 to 2015, sales increased for flavored cigarillos and chewing tobacco, as well as for menthol cigarettes, little cigars, moist snuff, and snus. Sales decreased for flavored large cigars, moist snuff, and snus, and for menthol chewing tobacco. State-level variations were observed by product; for example, flavored little cigar sales ranged from 4.4% (Maine) to 69.3% (Utah) and flavored cigarillo sales ranged from 26.6% (Maine) to 63.0% (Maryland).
Conclusions: Menthol and flavored sales have increased since 2011, particularly for the products with the highest number of units sold, and significant state variation exists. Efforts to restrict flavored tobacco product sales could reduce overall U.S. tobacco consumption.
Implications: Flavors in tobacco products can mask the harshness of tobacco and make these products more appealing to young people. This is the first study to assess national and state-level trends in flavored and menthol tobacco product sales. These findings underscore the importance of population-based interventions to address flavored tobacco product use at the national, state, and local levels. Additionally, further monitoring of flavored and menthol tobacco product sales can inform potential future regulatory efforts at the national, state, and local levels.