Research: Tobacco Products

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Online shopping for tobacco products following the flavored tobacco ban in California

UC San Diego researchers examined whether the exclusion of e-commerce in the definition of “tobacco retailer” might have resulted in a shift in consumer behavior towards e-commerce following California’s implementation of a statewide flavor restriction1. They identified that shopping queries were 194% and 162% higher than expected for cigarettes and vapes, respectively, on the week of implementation. Queries remained significantly elevated for 6 and 11 weeks for vapes and cigarettes, receptively. All search results contained links to websites that offered flavored vaping products and/or menthol cigarettes to Californian consumers.

Researchers note that

– California’s flavor restriction is enforced through its tobacco retailer licensing programs which can be an effective method of enforcing tobacco control laws (but, most programs do not require e-commerce retailers to obtain licenses)

– their findings raise concerns about potential loopholes in policy enforcement created by the absence of explicit regulations on e-commerce sales in retailer licensing programs

– strengthening regulations to include e-commerce and monitoring e-commerce compliance may enhance the impact of laws enforced through retailer licensing programs.

New “Non-menthol” cigarettes

Following California’s December 2022 menthol ban, RJ Reynolds (BAT) and ITG (Imperial Brands) introduced non-menthol cigarettes offering “a new fresh twist” and “a taste that satisfies the senses”. The records of ingredients show that the Camel Crisp and the Newport EXP contain a synthetic cooling agent called WS-3. In a recent study2, Duke University researchers found that the added amounts of synthetic cooling agent robustly activate the cold/menthol receptor and are sufficient to produce robust cooling sensations (- in some cases, even more than the menthol cigarettes).

WS-3, or N-ethyl-p-menthane-3-carboxamide, is one of the most used cooling agents in the food and beverage industry. Unlike menthol, WS-3 is virtually nonvolatile, odorless and tasteless – thereby, providing a cooling sensation without affecting the taste or aroma of the final product. It’s known for its clean, immediate cooling impact and has been found to cool primarily the roof of the mouth, the back of the mouth and the back of the tongue.

WS-3 is commonly used in gums/candies/mints, carbonated & alcoholic beverages, toothpastes and mouthwashes. WS-3 is considered safe for consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, its safety for inhalation is unknown.

In an earlier study3, Yale University researchers found that the European version of JUUL Mint pods contained WS-3 (- presumably, to keep the cooling effect and lose the distinct minty odor of menthol). The substance was absent in the US/Canadian JUUL Mint pods.


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