Mexico has a complex relationship with flavored cigarettes. On one hand, there is a long cultural tradition of flavored tobacco products in Mexico. On the other, in recent years there has been growing concern about the appeal of flavored cigarettes to youth and subsequent efforts to restrict their sale and consumption. This article will explore the history, regulation, and current availability of flavored cigarettes in Mexico.
The History of Flavored Cigarettes in Mexico
Flavored cigarettes have a long history in Mexico. Traditional flavored tobacco products include clove cigarettes (cigarillos de clavo) and various flavored smokeless tobaccos. These products have their roots in indigenous traditions predating the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.
When Spain colonized Mexico, they introduced new tobacco customs including cigarettes. Local artisans began experimenting with adding flavors to these cigarettes, creating early prototypes of modern flavored cigarette brands. Some of the first flavors used included licorice, rum, mint, and fruit flavors like cherry and strawberry.
Over the centuries, flavored cigarettes grew in popularity across Mexico. Global tobacco companies took notice and introduced commercial filtered cigarette brands with flavors like mint, fruit, spice, liquor and clove starting in the 1950s. Some of the most popular historic Mexican flavored cigarette brands included Salon Menthol, Montana Menthol, Derby Clove and Ronson Cherry.
Flavored cigarettes were largely unregulated and sold widely at affordable prices across Mexico throughout the 20th century. As a result, they were commonly used by men, women and youth. It was not until the 21st century, when health concerns arose, that efforts began to restrict flavored cigarettes in Mexico.
Regulations on Flavored Cigarettes
In 2003, Mexico banned the sale of packs containing less than 14 cigarettes, in an effort to reduce youth smoking. This regulation effectively banned many single flavored cigarette brands which were sold in packs of 10.
Stricter regulation came in 2009 with the General Law for Tobacco Control (Ley General para el Control del Tabaco). This law banned the sale of cigarettes with a flavor other than tobacco. The only exception made was for menthol flavoring, which was still permitted.
The 2009 law faced challenges by the tobacco industry. However, in 2012 a Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of banning flavored cigarettes.
As a result, since 2012 the legal sale of flavored cigarettes has been restricted to just menthol cigarettes. Any other flavor including clove, fruit, liquor, herb/spice, etc has been banned from manufacture and sale.
Availability of Flavored Cigarettes Today
Despite the bans, there is evidence that flavored cigarettes continue to be available, especially on the black market.
A 2022 study tested a sample of 89 different cigarette brands purchased in Mexico. It found that 29% contained flavor additives banned under current regulations. The most common banned additives found were menthol at levels higher than permitted (17 brands) and clove (10 brands).
Other research has found banned flavored cigarettes being sold at convenience stores, street markets, and other distributors lacking strict enforcement. An investigation by UNAM found flavored cigarette brands for sale with names like Mezclilla, Golden, ZZ, TLR, and Snob.
The continued availability of illegal flavored cigarettes demonstrates shortcomings around enforcement. But it also shows that a significant demand remains for flavored cigarettes among certain groups like youth who are drawn to the novelty.
Stricter policing and penalties for distributors could help reduce access. But cultural preferences may make it difficult to completely eliminate the black market presence of flavored cigarettes.
Reasons for Use of Flavored Cigarettes
There are several key reasons why flavored cigarettes have remained popular in parts of Mexican society, allowing a black market to endure despite bans:
Youth and First-Time Smokers
There is strong evidence that flavored cigarettes appeal disproportionately to youth and adolescents. The novelty flavors help mask the harsh natural taste of tobacco. This makes initiation into smoking easier. The variety of flavors also helps keep smoking interesting and appealing. For these reasons, young new smokers are a key segment sustaining demand for illegal flavored cigarettes.
Flavored cigarettes have traditionally been marketed towards women using ads tying flavors to freshness, cleanliness, and weight loss. Some women also report preferring flavored varieties like menthols because they are smoother and more palatable. While public health campaigns have helped reduce smoking rates among Mexican women, some demand remains sustaining the black market.
Tradition and Nostalgia
Older Mexican smokers may seek out flavored cigarettes that remind them of brands they used when younger. Traditions around flavored tobacco also span generations, creating cultural nostalgia that bolsters ongoing demand.
Curiosity and Rebelliousness
The banned status of flavored cigarettes paradoxically contributes to their allure among young people inclined toward curiosity and minor rebellion. Seeking out flavors prohibited by the government provides added enticement.
Perceived Glamour and Sophistication
Tobacco marketing has historically depicted flavored cigarettes as more glamorous, feminine, and sophisticated. Some social groups like young women may still perceive certain flavored brands this way. The persistence of this branding helps sustain flavored cigarette culture.
Variety and Customization
Just like flavor choices in food, some smokers enjoy the ability to customize their tobacco flavor profile to suit their mood or context. Having menthol, clove, fruit and other variety provides more options.
Public Health Concerns
The impetus behind Mexico’s bans on flavored cigarettes were public health concerns, specifically:
Gateway for Youth
As previously mentioned, research definitively shows that flavored cigarettes’ appeal contributes to adolescent smoking initiation and rising youth smoking rates. Preventing access to flavored cigarettes is seen as crucial to reducing overall smoking prevalence.
Some evidence suggests that smokers of menthol cigarettes have reduced success in quitting smoking. The flavor makes the smoke less harsh and enables establishing stronger smoking habits. This makes quitting more challenging.
Certain flavor additives like clove may enhance the addictiveness or harm of cigarettes when burned. Public health officials caution the public against perceptions that flavored cigarettes are somehow safer.
Secondhand smoke from flavored cigarettes may present unique health hazards to bystanders. For example, new studies suggest menthol cigarette smoke is more likely to deposit harmful nicotine residues on surfaces through thirdhand smoke.
Reducing access to all flavored cigarettes remains a priority for improving population health according to Mexico’s leading medical and health agencies. Ongoing public education is needed to highlight the risks.
The future of flavored cigarettes in Mexico remains uncertain:
– Stronger enforcement and penalties could help reduce the current black market availability of banned flavored cigarettes. But eliminating access completely may be difficult without reducing public demand.
– Alternatively, advocacy groups suggest moving to a tobacco harm reduction model with strict government regulation of all cigarette ingredients and flavors. This could ensure potentially harmful varieties like clove are controlled while providing legal access to some flavored cigarettes. However adoption of this model seems unlikely in Mexico’s current political climate.
– Developing better cessation assistance programs tailored to groups like menthol smokers could enable quitting flavored cigarettes and reducing demand naturally without need for bans. But this requires significant investment in new resources and cultural change.
– For now, illegal trade of banned flavored cigarettes is likely to persist on a small scale. But over the longer term, vaping and heat-not-burn tobacco products may displace some demand as smokers gravitate towards new technologies. The public health impact of this potential substitution remains hotly debated.
While the motivations are strong, Mexico’s bans have so far fallen short of eliminating flavored cigarettes completely. Ongoing monitoring and adapting of tobacco control strategies will be needed to address the risks flavored products may still pose for youth initiation and other vulnerable groups. But invested interests and cultural preferences make flavored cigarette persistence likely for years to come.
Flavored cigarettes have a longstanding cultural tradition in Mexico spanning centuries. This history helped enable a prolific commercial market for flavored cigarettes throughout the 20th century. However, recognition of public health risks like youth smoking led to bans on all flavorings besides menthol in 2009. Despite these legal restrictions, illegal trade of banned flavored cigarettes has persisted on a small scale due to various enduring social and cultural factors. Public health advocates continue pushing for stronger regulation and enforcement. But flavored cigarette use remains deeply intertwined with Mexican identity. Eliminating the current black market availability completely therefore remains challenging without reducing the underlying public demand. Looking ahead, new harm reduction approaches may emerge, or new technologies like vaping may displace demand gradually over time. But flavored cigarettes seem likely to remain available in Mexico illegally for the foreseeable future.