A new brief from STOP explains how flavours are used in tobacco products, examines industry tactics in their development and marketing, and reviews policy responses from governments around the world. The Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG), the research partner in STOP, has produced several research papers on this topic, which are featured in the brief.
Developing flavoured products
Cigarette manufacturers have been adding flavours to tobacco products for many years. Traditionally, the flavour would have been added to the leaves during processing. More recently, the industry has been developing new products that contain a flavour capsule. Users crush the capsule at the time of their choice to release the flavour.
Flavours added to tobacco products include fruit, spice, herbal and floral, but by far the most popular is menthol. Menthol-flavoured cigarettes account for around 10% of the global cigarette market.
Flavours make tobacco products more dangerous because they make smoking more palatable and less harsh-feeling. This means they are often used as "starter" products by those new to smoking, and are harder to quit. These features, along with the way flavoured products are packaged, displayed and marketed, helps them appeal more to young people.
Guidelines from the World Health Organization state: "From the perspective of public health, there is no justification for permitting the use of ingredients, such as flavouring agents, which help make tobacco products attractive.”
Despite objections and obstructions from the tobacco industry, countries around the world have begun to implement flavour bans. As of 2021, around 40 countries had active or pending policies on flavour.
Flavours in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)
Many of the countries who have taken action on flavoured products are high-income countries. Research from the University of Bath shows that there was a rapid increase in market-share growth of flavoured products in LMICs, around the same time as legislation was introduced in the EU and Canada. It is possible that tobacco companies could have increased their marketing of flavoured products, including menthol, in LMICs as sales elsewhere were winding down. This is of particular concern because tobacco use remains persistently high in LMICs, with nearly 80% of the world's smokers living in these countries.
More information about flavoured and menthol products
You can find more information and resources on the use of flavours and menthol in tobacco products on Tobacco Tactics:
- Flavoured and menthol tobacco
- Flavoured and menthol tobacco in LMICs
- Menthol cigarettes: industry interference in the EU and UK
- Promotion of newer products around the UK menthol ban
The brief, and the research paper on LMICs, are dedicated to the memory of Dr Mateusz Zatoński (1987-2022). Mateusz was a Research Fellow with TCRG. His research, much of which is cited in the brief, has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the impact and use of menthol and flavoured tobacco products. Through collaborating with colleagues in the United Kingdom and across the world, Mateusz exposed how the tobacco industry threatens health and demonstrated how this can be countered by governments, policymakers and public health advocates.