12.6.3 Additives that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products

Last updated: October 2023
Suggested citation: Winnall, WR. 12.6.3 Additives that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products. In Greenhalgh EM, Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2024. Available from https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-12-tobacco-products/12-6-3-additives-that-increase-the-attractiveness-of-tobacco-products   


Improving the user experience of a tobacco product can make it more difficult for people to quit and more likely that young people will take up smoking.1,2 Tobacco products can be made more attractive through modifying the flavour, smell or appearance of the smoke, reducing harshness (irritation to the mouth or throat), masking harshness by increasing smoothness, or improving the feel or look of a product.1,2

Additives that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products are often part of a water-soluble mixture called a casing. Casings are sprayed on tobacco strips or leaves early in the primary processing. These are sometimes referred to as ‘sauce’ and contain a variety of water-soluble ingredients such as humectants, sugars, cocoa, liquorice and fruit extracts. Sugars in the casing are used to reduce the harshness of smoke.1,3 Sweeteners and other flavours added later in the process are called ‘top dressing’. These are volatile, highly aromatic oils that are used in very small amounts. Top dressings are applied in an alcohol-based spray, often at the last stages of primary processing.1 Flavouring additives

Chemicals that produce flavours are added to tobacco to improve the taste of smoke, either by introducing pleasant flavour ‘notes’ or by masking unpleasant ones. Most of the range of known additives to tobacco are suspected to contribute to the flavour of the product.

Table Tobacco additives (in cigarettes and roll-your-own-tobacco) on the list of priority substances, from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, 2016



Priority list

Reported role of additive by industry

Reasons for listing

Toxicity/other concerns






Skin irritant, may have general depressant activity

Aliphatic gamma-lactones










































Ammonium compounds




Respiratory toxicant




Flavouring, aroma


Hazardous substance, irritant, unclear toxicity of pyrolysis products


Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate


Preservative and pH adjuster


Skin and eye irritants, may give rise to toxic pyrolysis products


Benzyl alcohol


Flavouring, solvent


Allergen, harmful substance by inhalation


Caramel colours




CMR after combustion, toxic combustion products


Carob bean extract




CMR after combustion, Toxic and carcinogenic pyrolysis products






CMR after combustion (toxic and carcinogenic pyrolysis products)




Flavouring, casing


potentially increases addictiveness




Aroma, taste-modifier


Potential genotoxicity and potentially toxic combustion products




Flavouring, aroma


CMR in unburnt form, possibly genotoxic, respiratory toxicant






CMR in unburnt form, co-carcinogenic effect with benzo[a]pyrene, present in cigarette smoke possible respiratory toxicant,






Possibly CMR in unburnt form, Skin and eye irritant




Humectant (casing)


Pyrolysed into toxic acrolein






CMR in unburnt form, possibly genotoxic, irritant of eye, skin, respiratory system


Guar gum


Adhesive, binder, flavouring


CMR after combustion, Hazardous, reduces harshness






Allergen (skin sensitiser), analgesic effects






Possible effect on bronchodilation




Flavouring, aroma


CMR in unburnt form, possible genotoxicity, possible effects on central nervous system






Increases smoothness, May increase respiration through lungs

Natural/ botanical extracts





CMR after combustion, irritant, may affect central nervous system

Fig extract




CMR after combustion, possible toxic and carcinogenic pyrolysis products

Prune juice (plum) extract




CMR after combustion, pyrolysis products are possibly toxic or addiction enhancing





CMR after combustion, possible toxicity


Phenyl acetic acid




Potential respiratory irritant






Irritant to skin, eyes, respiratory tract, possible psycho-active effects


Propylene glycol














Flavouring (casing)


CMR after combustion (toxic and carcinogenic pyrolysis products), reduces harshness


Titanium dioxide




CMR : IARC group 2B possibly carcinogenic to humans, possible respiratory toxicant






Possible toxic combustion and pyrolysis products

Weak organic acids

Citric acid


Flavouring, reduces visible sidestream smoke



Potassium citrate


Modifies burn rate/puff number


Modifies burn rate/puff number, mild irritant

Acetic acid





Butyric acid





Lactic acid





2-methyl butyric acid





Sorbic acid





Potassium sorbate




Eye irritant

Source: Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks Final Opinion on Additives used in tobacco products (Opinion 1) Tobacco Additives I.4 Commission implementing decision (EU) 2016/787 of 18 May 2016 laying down a priority list of additives contained in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco subject to enhanced reporting obligations5


INU: increases inhalation or nicotine uptake (potentially increasing addictiveness), CF: characterising or potentially characterising flavour, TUB: toxic or potentially toxic in unburnt form, TAB: toxic or potentially toxic after burning (irritant, toxic and/or CMR after burning), CMR: carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxicant.

Table details many flavouring additives in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco in Europe. Of particular interest to regulators are ‘characterising flavours’ that predominantly influence the flavour and attractiveness of tobacco products.4 Examples of characterising flavours include diacetyl (which smells like butterscotch), geraniol (which smells like geranium and occurs in rose, citronella and many other essential oils), guaiacol (which smells like smoked ham, vanilla or cloves), fenugreek, fig extract, prune juice extract, rum and vanillin. Additives such as ammonium compounds and lactic acid may also modify the flavour of tobacco.4

Most tobacco contains high levels of sugars, which occur naturally in the plant and are added to tobacco after harvesting. Sugars add to the flavour of tobacco by undergoing chemical reaction processes called caramelisation and Maillard reactions that form volatile flavourants.3,6,7 Sugars added to Australian tobacco products include white sugar/sucrose, invert sugar (a mix of glucose and fructose), sugar cane extract/syrup and high fructose corn syrup. The majority of tobacco companies that report added sugars designate these sugars as flavours.8-10

Many of the flavouring additives are non-toxic, but they are converted into toxic substances after being modified during burning. For instance, heated sugars produce pyrolysis products, such as aldehydes and furans. Many of these are known toxicants and/or carcinogens.3

Liqueur/confectionery cigarettes are produced by diffusing volatile flavour essences throughout the cigarette or by a flavour pellet embedded in the filter.11 As smoke is drawn through the filter, the casing of the pellet dissolves and the flavour essences are vaporised into the smoke.11 Development of soluble pellet technology may explain the sudden appearance of liqueur/confectionery brands around the world in the early 2000s. Liqueur/confectionery flavour additives are believed to be part of ‘youth-oriented’ products (see Section 5.13), and likely to facilitate initiation among youth by masking the harshness of tobacco smoke in comparison with a 'full-flavour' cigarette.12 The promotion and sale of fruit and confectionary flavoured cigarettes is now prohibited in all states and territories in Australia. See 10.8.4 for more details about flavoured cigarettes and tobacco in Australia.

Kreteks are cigarettes that originated in Indonesia, containing tobacco plus a significant amount of cloves (sun-dried flower buds of the clove tree). Kreteks also contain a ‘sauce’ that contributes to flavouring, with up to 100 ingredients.13 Information on the sauce ingredients is scarce, but it may include chemicals that give a chocolate, strawberry, liquorice and/or banana taste.14 Saccharin is added to the kretek wrapper to produce a sweet flavour.13 Eugenol (clove oil) is found in kreteks at up to 7% of the weight of the filler. Other chemicals from the cloves include eugenol acetate, caryophyllene, α-humulene, and methyl eugenol.15 The extent to which these contribute to the flavour of kreteks is poorly understood.

Bidis are hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarettes made in India and exported worldwide. They contain finely ground, sun dried tobacco rolled in a Tendu leaf (from the Tendu tree, native to India). Bidis are often high in added flavours, such as cherry, menthol, cinnamon, strawberry, vanilla, and raspberry.16

The tobacco used in waterpipes is usually highly flavoured and these flavours are a significant motivator for their use.17-19 Fruity flavours are common. Benzyl alcohol, limonene, linalool and eugenol (clove oil) have also been detected in waterpipe tobacco.20 Reducing harshness and increasing smoothness

Reducing the harshness or increasing the smoothness of a product can improve the smoking experience, making it harder to quit and making young people more likely to take up smoking.1,2  

Harshness has been carefully defined and measured by the tobacco industry; it is ‘a chemically induced physical effect associated with a roughness, rawness experience generally localised in the mouth and to a lesser degree in the upper reaches of the throat and the trachea due to inhalation of tobacco smoke.’1 Nicotine, which is present in tobacco in substantial amounts, is one chemical that is responsible for the harshness of smoke.21 Lowering the amount of nicotine, particularly the ratio of nicotine to tar, can reduce the harshness of smoke. Propylene glycol (a humectant) has been found to reduce the delivery of nicotine whilst increasing tar levels, and may reduce harshness.1,22 Added sugars, such as sucrose, glucose and fructose increase the acids in smoke, potentially lowering the ‘freebase’ nicotine (see Section, thereby reducing the harshness of the smoke on the mouth and throat.1,3,23

An alternative approach is to increase the smoothness of smoke using additives that mask the harshness, without reducing delivery of nicotine. Chemicals that mask the harshness of smoke may do this by reducing the feeling of irritation felt in the mouth or throat when smoking.1 Menthol and thymol are such additives, due to their local anaesthetic effect, see Section 12.7.2. Levulinic acid and levulinates are additives that can mask the harshness of smoke whilst maintaining or increasing nicotine delivery.1,24 Glycyrrhizin (found in liquoric) and other additives that make the taste sweeter can also mask the harshness of smoke.1,25 Eugenol (clove oil), which comprises up to 7% of the weight of kreteks, has local anaesthetic properties and may act to increase smoothness of these Indonesian cigarettes.26

Synthetic cooling agents such as WS-3 and WS-23 are chemicals that can mask the harshness of tobacco using a similar mechanism to menthol.27 They do not have a characteristic flavour, and therefore may be considered to be non-flavourants that have a cooling effect. After menthol bans in some jurisdictions in the US, the presence of the synthetic coolant WS-3 has been detected in some cigarettes labelled as ‘non-menthol’ but with similar packaging and colours as used for menthol cigarettes.27 ,28 WS-3 has also been found in oral nicotine pouches.29

Humectants are chemicals that promote the retention of moisture in the tobacco (increase the humidity). Tobacco that becomes too dry has a harsh taste and feel, which can be improved with the addition of humectants.2 Humectants commonly added to tobacco products include glycerol, propylene glycol and sorbitol.1 By quantity per cigarette, humectants are one of the most common additives. In Australia, roll-your-own tobacco products have higher amounts of humectants (glycerol and propylene glycol) and higher moisture levels than factory-made cigarettes.30 Improving the look and aroma of smoke

Many flavourings additives and added sugars produce appealing aromas when smoked. Improving the smell and appeal of the smoke may reduce the annoyance of the smoke to other people and therefore may improve the user experience of smoking.1 Acetylpyrazine, anethole and limonene are additives that reduce the smell of sidestream smoke. Chemicals added to the wrapper, including magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate, sodium acetate, sodium citrate and calcium carbonate can reduce the visibility of smoke.31 These chemicals are predicted to reduce the harshness of taste and make the tobacco look ‘fresher’.31 Improving the look of tobacco products

Relatively high levels of humectants (glycerol and propylene glycol) in Australian roll-your-own tobacco are predicted to make the tobacco look more moist and ‘fresh’. This may contribute to false perceptions that roll-your-own tobacco is more natural and has fewer additives than tobacco in factory-made cigarettes.31

Colouring agents such as pigments are added to tobacco products to modify their appearance. Any colouring or other chemicals added to the cigarette paper forms part of the smoke that is inhaled as mainstream or sidestream smoke. These include chemicals that modify the burn rate, discussed in Section 12.6.4. Chemicals added to the filter may be inhaled, but those added to the tipping paper (around the filter) would not be. In some countries, pigments are added to the cigarette paper or tipping paper to make cigarettes of varying colours,26 which can make them more appealing, particularly to younger users.32 Pigments are also used to print branding on the cigarette paper and tipping paper. Titanium dioxide is often added to the cigarette filter as a whitening agent.33 Creating the impression of health benefits

Additives in tobacco products have been used in some countries to create the impression, through brand naming, that these products have health benefits or reduced health hazards. Examples of these additives are vitamin C, vitamin E, fruit and vegetables extracts, amino acids such as cysteine and tryptophan, essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6,26,34 and charcoal in filters.35


1. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Addictiveness and attractiveness of tobacco additives. Brussels, Belgium 2010. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_031.pdf.

2. Wayne G and Connolly G. How cigarette design can affect youth initiation into smoking: Camel cigarettes 1983-93. Tobacco Control, 2002; 11(suppl.1):I32-I9. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893812

3. Talhout R, Opperhuizen A, and van Amsterdam JG. Sugars as tobacco ingredient: Effects on mainstream smoke composition. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2006; 44(11):1789-98. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904804

4. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Final opinion on additives used in tobacco products. European Commission, Health & Food Safety, Directorate C: Public Health 2016. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_051.pdf.

5. Andriukaitis V. Commission implementing decision (EU) 2016/787 of 18 May 2016 laying down a priority list of additives contained in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco subject to enhanced reporting obligations. Official Journal of the European Union 2016. Available from: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32016D0787&from=EN.

6. Hu W, Cai W, Zheng Z, Liu Y, Luo C, et al. Study on the chemical compositions and microbial communities of cigar tobacco leaves fermented with exogenous additive. Scientific Reports, 2022; 12(1):19182. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36357535

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10. Philip Morris Ltd. Australia ingredients report composite list of tobacco ingredients for reporting period march 1 2019 to march 1 2020. Canberra, Australia 2020. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/philip-morris-ltd-cigarette-ingredients.

11. Connolly GN. Sweet and spicy flavours: New brands for minorities and youth. Tobacco Control, 2004; 13(3):211-2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15333865

12. Williams J, Gandhi, KK, Steinberg, ML, Foulds, J, Ziedonis, DM and Benowitz, NL. Higher nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in menthol cigarette smokers with and without schizophrenia. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 2007; 9(8):873-81. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17654300/

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16. Malson JL, Sims K, Murty R, and Pickworth WB. Comparison of the nicotine content of tobacco used in bidis and conventional cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 2001; 10(2):181-3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11387541

17. Maziak W, Ben Taleb Z, Ebrahimi Kalan M, Ward-Peterson M, Bursac Z, et al. Effect of flavour manipulation on low and high-frequency waterpipe users' puff topography, toxicant exposures and subjective experiences. Tobacco Control, 2020; 29(Suppl 2):s95-s101. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31326956

18. Leavens EL, Driskill LM, Molina N, Eissenberg T, Shihadeh A, et al. Comparison of a preferred versus non-preferred waterpipe tobacco flavour: Subjective experience, smoking behaviour and toxicant exposure. Tobacco Control, 2018; 27(3):319-24. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28381414

19. Ben Taleb Z, Vargas M, Ebrahimi Kalan M, Breland A, Eissenberg T, et al. The effect of flavoured and non-flavoured tobacco on subjective experience, topography and toxicant exposure among waterpipe smokers. Tobacco Control, 2020; 29(Suppl 2):s72-s9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31767788

20. Schubert J, Luch A, and Schulz TG. Waterpipe smoking: Analysis of the aroma profile of flavored waterpipe tobaccos. Talanta, 2013; 115:665-74. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24054646

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