Minneapolis just made it harder to buy menthol cigarettes

The move was taken to "help protect young people's health."

The sale of menthol tobacco will be further restricted in Minneapolis after the city council voted to limit its availability to only a few dozen stores

Menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco can currently be bought from 318 convenience stores and other outlets in the city.

But under the ordinance passed on Friday, its availability will be reduced to just 23 adult-only tobacco product shops and 24 liquor stores. The new rules kick in Aug. 1, 2018.

Why the city did this

The move has been taken, the city says, to prevent children and teenagers from getting hooked on nicotine at an early age. Menthol tobacco is popular among younger users because it masks the taste and harshness of cigarette smoke, according to the city.

This means menthol tobacco will now be regulated in the same way as other flavored tobacco, after undercover operations found 12 percent of the city's tobacco stores sold products to people under the age of 18.

Nationally, around 44 percent of high school smokers use menthol products.

"We know that menthol masks the harsh taste of tobacco, making it more tolerable for people,” said Council Member Cam Gordon in a press release. "We believe that making it harder to get menthol tobacco will prevent some people starting and getting addicted, which will improve the health of this generation and the next."

As well as young people, the Star Tribune also notes menthol products have historically been marketed to black smokers. And by passing the ordinance the city hopes to reduce some of the health disparities seen today.

But the newspaper says opposition has come from retailers and tobacco companies who argue it will lead to an "underground tobacco market" and the criminalization of menthol smokers.

More on menthol tobacco

The City of Minneapolis notes that the menthol chemical compound is taken from the peppermint or the corn mint plant, or created synthetically.

It's used in cigarettes, and indeed in medicine, to relieve throat irritation because of its numbing qualities. 

Studies have found that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, with the New Scientist reporting menthol activates more "nicotinic receptors" in the brain, which makes it harder to quit.

It's also found that the menthol flavor encourages smokers to take deeper drags, drawing in greater amounts of nicotine, NPR reports.

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