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Is blue the new green? Repackaging menthol cigarettes in response to a flavour ban in Ontario, Canada
  1. Tracey Borland1,
  2. Sandra A D’Souza1,
  3. Shawn O’Connor1,
  4. Michael Oliver Chaiton1,
  5. Robert Schwartz1,2
  1. 1 Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Tracey Borland, Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, c/o Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto ON M5T 3M7, Canada; tracey.borland{at}


Background 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.

Methods 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.

Results 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.

Conclusion 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).

  • advertising and promotion
  • packaging and labelling
  • tobacco industry
  • public policy

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  • Contributors RS and MOC conceived the study and the analysis plan. TB purchased the packs. TB and SAD coded the data and conducted the analysis. SO consulted throughout the data collection, coding and analysis process. TB drafted the manuscript. RS, MOC, SO and SAD reviewed the manuscript and provided input to its finalisation.

  • Funding Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number FP00003667.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.