Flavour preferences in youth versus adults: a review

Tob Control. 2016 Nov;25(Suppl 2):ii32-ii39. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053192. Epub 2016 Sep 15.


Objective: To understand the available evidence of how children and adults differ in their preferences for flavours that may be used in tobacco products.

Data sources: A total of 474 articles published between 1931 and August 2015 were retrieved through searches conducted in PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science and PsycINFO.

Study selection and extraction: A 2-phase relevancy review process resulted in the identification of 59 articles and information was extracted by 2 independent reviewers.

Data synthesis: Findings were grouped by taste and smell preferences, which are important components of overall flavour. For taste, evidence is summarised in the following categories: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami and fat; within each of them, findings are organised by age categories. For smell, evidence is summarised as follows: fruit/herbal/spices, tobacco and coffee and other odours. Major findings from this search indicated that sweet preference in children and adolescents was higher than in adults. Examples of preferred food-related tastes and odours for young people included cherry, candy, strawberry, orange, apple and cinnamon. Currently, all these are used to flavour cigars, cartridges for electronic cigarettes, hookah (waterpipe) and smokeless tobacco products.

Conclusions: Infants and children exhibited elevated sweet and salty preference relative to adults. Age-related changes in bitter, sour, umami and fat taste were not clear and more research would be useful. 'Sweet' food odours were highly preferred by children. Tobacco products in flavours preferred by young people may impact tobacco use and initiation, while flavours preferred by adults may impact product switching or dual use.

Keywords: End game; Non-cigarette tobacco products; Priority/special populations.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Consumer Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / statistics & numerical data
  • Flavoring Agents*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Tobacco Products / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Flavoring Agents