Both Nonsmoking Youth and Smoking Adults Like Sweet and Minty E-liquid Flavors More Than Tobacco Flavor

Chem Senses. 2021 Jan 1:46:bjab009. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjab009.


Smokers may reduce their health risk by switching to electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use. As e-cigarettes are not harmless, concerns exist about e-cigarette use by nonsmokers and youth. E-liquids are available in many different flavors that increase sensory appeal. Flavor preferences may differ between user groups, which could open doors for product regulation. We investigated which e-liquid flavors are attractive to specific user groups by comparing liking between adolescent nonsmokers (n = 41; mean age 16.9 ± 0.8), young adult nonsmokers (n = 42; mean age 22.7 ± 1.7), and adult smokers (n = 56; mean age 39.7 ± 11.1). Participants smelled tobacco- (n = 6) and nontobacco (n = 24)-flavored e-liquids and rated liking on a 9-point labeled hedonic scale, and familiarity, overall intensity, perceived sweetness, perceived bitterness, and irritation of the odors on a 100-unit Visual Analog Scale. Mean liking ranged from 2.3 (whiskey) to 6.7 (peppermint). Within all groups, the typically sweet and minty flavors (e.g., wine gum, watermelon, peppermint, menthol) were liked significantly more than the tobacco-flavored e-liquids. The set of tobacco-flavored e-liquids was significantly, but slightly, less disliked by adult smokers (3.9 ± 0.2) than adolescent (3.1 ± 0.3) and young adult (3.4 ± 0.3) nonsmokers (P < 0.001). No between-group differences were observed for sweet and minty flavors. Liking correlated significantly positively with odor sweetness (R = 0.49) and familiarity (R = 0.48) and negatively with odor bitterness (R = -0.58), irritation (R = -0.47), and overall intensity (R = -0.27). Thus, sweet- and minty-flavored e-liquids are liked equally by young nonsmokers and adult smokers, and more than tobacco flavors. Banning all flavors except tobacco will likely reduce e-cigarette appeal; potentially more for young nonsmokers than adult smokers.

Keywords: consumer research; electronic cigarettes; flavors; hedonics; liking; smell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Flavoring Agents / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotiana / chemistry*
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Smoking*
  • Young Adult


  • Flavoring Agents