A large proportion of Australian cigarette brands incorporate flavour additives, according to the manufacturers' ingredients disclosures. In most brands flavour additives have only background effects. That is, the flavour additives are intended to produce only minor changes to the flavour of the cigarette, with the tobacco flavours remaining dominant. However, there are two kinds of cigarette where flavour additives are used at much higher levels. These are menthol cigarettes and confectionery/ liqueur cigarettes.
Menthol brands are infused with between 16mg and 40mg of menthol (a volatile extract of peppermint) during packaging and it spreads throughout the cigarette.1 When menthol cigarettes are smoked, the menthol in the tobacco and filter is vaporized and carried with the mainstream smoke, where it blocks irritation receptors and stimulates cold receptors in the mouth and throat, creating sensations of freshness, as well as making the smoke seem smoother.2 As the menthol taste is relatively persistent, it also blocks the lingering stale after-taste of tobacco, which many smokers find unpleasant, especially younger smokers.
Addition of menthol makes these cigarettes more addictive. Menthol increases the effect of nicotine on the brain via several different mechanisms. Menthol increases the number of nicotine receptors in the brain,3 making it more sensitive to its effects. Menthol may enhance the ‘feel-good’ effects of nicotine, by causing dopamine release after exposure to smaller amounts of nicotine.4 Menthol can alter nicotine metabolism, increasing its bioavailability (making it stay around in the body for longer). This increases the length of time it can affect the brain and may increase the “reward” effects of nicotine on the brain.5 People who smoke menthol cigarettes are more likely to show signs of nicotine dependence than non-menthol smokers and find it more difficult to quit.6-8
Menthol cigarettes have been around since the 1930s, when they were promoted as a 'medicinal' cigarette, useful for being able to continue smoking when one had a cough or cold.9 In more recent years, advertising for menthol cigarettes has focused on their 'smoother'/ 'fresher' smoke, although there have still been secondary marketing points concerning implied "healthiness" or reduced harm.10 Menthol cigarettes have also long been promoted as a 'feminine' cigarette within the Australian market. Alpine, manufactured by Philip Morris, was strongly marketed to younger women in particular, prior to the current regime of advertising bans and were also 'stealth marketed' to young women at fashion events after the bans were in place.11-14
Whereas menthol cigarettes preceded 'low tar' cigarettes by several decades, liqueur/ confectionery flavoured cigarettes represent a very recent and short-term development in Australia. They first appeared on the Australian market around 2004-5 and were then subject to concerted action by the Commonwealth and State Health Ministers in 2008 when there was strong agreement to ban them.
Some liqueur/ confectionery cigarettes are produced in the same manner as menthol cigarettes, with volatile flavour essences diffused throughout the cigarette. Other liqueur/ confectionary cigarettes have a flavour pellet embedded in the filter.15 As smoke is drawn through the filter, the casing of the pellet dissolves and the flavour essences are vaporized into the smokestream.15 Development of soluble pellet technology may explain the sudden appearance of liqueur/ confectionery brands around the world in the few years after 2000.
The sale of fruit and confectionary flavoured cigarettes is now prohibited in South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. In Western Australia packages cannot be displayed by retailers if they contain (or have words, pictures or images that suggest they contain) fruit or confectionary flavoured cigarettes. The Victorian Government has announced its intention to provide the Minister with the power to ban youth-orientated tobacco products and packages (including fruit and confectionery flavoured cigarettes) from 1 January 2010.16 The ban on liqueur/ confectionery cigarettes was prompted primarily by the belief that they were a 'youth-oriented' product. Further, like 'low tar' and menthol cigarettes, liqueur/ confectionery flavour additives are likely to facilitate initiation among youth by masking the harshness of tobacco smoke in comparison with a 'full-flavour' cigarette.17
Relevant news and research
For recent news items and research on this topic, click here. ( Last updated October 2021)
1. Ruff R. Report no. 84. 1994. Available from: https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=lycn0130.
2. Ahijevich K and Garrett B. Menthol pharmacology and its potential impact on cigarette smoking behaviour. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 2004; 6(suppl.1):s17-s28. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14982706/
3. Brody AL, Mukhin AG, La Charite J, Ta K, Farahi J, et al. Up-regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in menthol cigarette smokers. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2013; 16(5):957-66. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23171716
4. Wickham RJ. The biological impact of menthol on tobacco dependence. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2020; 22(10):1676-84. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31867627
5. Wickham RJ. How menthol alters tobacco-smoking behavior: A biological perspective. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2015; 88(3):279-87. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26339211
6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes. Silver Spring, MD: Center for Tobacco Products, Food and Drug Administration, 2013. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/media/86497/download.
7. Villanti AC, Collins LK, Niaura RS, Gagosian SY, and Abrams DB. Menthol cigarettes and the public health standard: a systematic review. BMC Public Health, 2017; 17(1):983. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29284458
8. Smith PH, Assefa B, Kainth S, Salas-Ramirez KY, McKee SA, et al. Use of mentholated cigarettes and likelihood of smoking cessation in the United States: A meta-analysis. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2020; 22(3):307-16. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31204787
9. Gardiner PS. The African Americanization of menthol cigarette use in the United States. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2004; 6 Suppl 1(suppl. 1):S55-65. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14982709
10. Sutton CD and Robinson RG. The marketing of menthol cigarettes in the United States: populations, messages, and channels. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2004; 6 Suppl 1(suppl. 1):S83-91. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14982711
11. King W, Carter SM, Borland R, Chapman S, and Gray N. The Australian tar derby: the origins and fate of a low tar harm reduction programme. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12 Suppl 3(suppl. 3):iii61-70. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14645950
12. Carter S. Ad watch: Worshipping at the Alpine altar: promoting tobacco in a world without advertising. Tobacco Control, 2001; 10(4):391-3. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/10/4/391
13. Carter SM. Going below the line: creating transportable brands for Australia's dark market. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12 Suppl 3(suppl. 3):iii87-94. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14645953
14. Harper T. Marketing life after advertising bans. Tobacco Control, 2001; 10(2):196-8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11387544
15. 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
16. Gallagher K. Tobacco reform continues. Canberra: Office of the Chief Minister, Australian Capital Territory, 2007. Available from: http://www.chiefminister.act.gov.au/media.php?v=5659.
17. 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/