Menthol ban enforcement likely to be a victim of COVID-19 measures

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Enforcement of the 20 May ban on menthol cigarettes may be limited by a redirection of local authority resources towards the coronavirus crisis and the fact trading standards officers are not making store visits.

Paul Gretton, trading standards officer at Nottinghamshire County Council, told Vape Business: “At present we aren’t carrying out any routine face-to-face visits. We are all working from home and endeavouring to provide the best service we can in the circumstances.”

Under current emergency legislation, he added, the Nottinghamshire Trading Standards team is working with police to enforce store closures during the lockdown.

Gretton added that Public Health England – another tobacco control body – is unlikely to be focused on the menthol ban in the short term: “Under normal circumstances all of our work around tobacco enforcement is done in conjunction with Public Health colleagues in the county council. I am not directly involved in this but I am sure the menthol cigarette situation will be considered by them when things return to whatever the new “normal” is going to be.”

Vape Business spoke with another figure at a separate council in the south of England. Declining to be named, they said: “I doubt [trading standards] will have prioritised this initiative in the current circumstances, especially as the ban does not take effect for another three weeks or so.”

“I am also fairly sure that [trading standards] will not be making ad hoc visits to shops to check on the potential sale of menthol cigarettes.”

The comments come after retailer Kay Patel, from best-one Stratford, said: “I actually think that there will be a lot of retailers who decide to keep selling menthol cigarettes after 20 May – I won’t, but I can understand why. There’s no boots on the ground whether that’s reps or trading standards and retailers don’t know when they will get their stock taken back after the ban. How long will they have to hold all of this stock for before it gets redeemed?”

Individual trading standards teams will have their own priorities and policies and Association of Convenience Stores’ assured advice on the menthol ban states that retailers can be liable for a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment for not following the upcoming menthol ban restrictions.

Meanwhile, campaigners opposing the ban said the measure would hit smokers at the worst possible time.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on people’s daily lives. This is not the moment to prohibit a product many smokers enjoy and take comfort from,” Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said.

“Given the current crisis, and the disruption and anxiety it is causing, the ban is going to hit consumers at the worst possible time.”

Clark claimed that “a significant number of smokers” are still unaware of the forthcoming ban.

 “The government is understandably preoccupied with more serious issues but imposing prohibition on so many consumers without a proper awareness campaign is inexcusable,” he added.