Cigarette Manufacturers Using Synthetic Cooling Agents to Avoid Menthol Bans, Researchers Warn

Researchers warn that some synthetic cooling agents are more potent than menthol, which has been banned by some states since it makes smoking more appealing and harder to quit.

Following menthol cigarette bans issued in the states of Massachusetts and California, some cigarette manufacturers have begun using synthetic cooling agents to mimic the effects of menthol cigarettes, according to the findings of a new study.

There has been growing momentum among health advocates to remove menthol cigarettes from the market, since the cooling and anesthetic effects reduce the harshness of tobacco smoke, making cigarettes more appealing, especially among young smokers and teens. Menthol flavoring has been known to increase experimentation among non-smokers and increase the risk of life-long nicotine addictions, which greatly increase the health risks associated with smoking.

In a report published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers warn that several cigarette brands have started using alternative chemicals to create that cooling sensation, as part of an effort to get around menthol bans and continue to push sales of their addictive and deadly products.

Synthetic Cooling Agents More Potent Than Menthol

Researchers from Duke University School of Medicine and Yale University extracted flavorings from nine varieties of cigarettes, including RJ Reynold’s Newport Camel brands, and Imperial Brands’ Kool products bought in Northern and Southern California stores, and compared with eight traditional menthol cigarette products. Researchers did the same with three Newport brands in Massachusetts.

The findings indicate users of synthetic brands using cooling agents or other flavor additives reported experiencing a cooling sensation, but the cigarettes lacked the hallmark menthol minty smell. They also reported sweet flavors in non-menthol cigarettes.

The researchers found that some brands were more potent at activating menthol and cooling receptors in consumers than actual menthol, such as Newport non-menthol Green and Newport non-menthol EXP. Camel Crisp brand produced a cooling activity, but Kool non-menthol cigarettes did not.

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Chemical analysis identified WS-3, a synthetic cooling chemical, in four of the nine non-menthol replacement brands. Research focusing on the side effects of WS-3 has shown the chemical can lead to organ toxicity in rodents, but human studies are limited.

The synthetic menthol provides a cooling sensation, reducing the harshness of cigarettes, but also provides a loophole to the current bans and the future federal ban on menthol cigarettes proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an effort to prevent future generations from smoking.

Researchers emphasize regulators should consider including synthetic coolants, like WS-3 and others, in flavor bans since the chemicals can mimic menthol and make products more appealing to users and less irritating to the mouth and throat.


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