Background US sales of oral nicotine pouches (ONPs) have rapidly increased, with cool/mint-flavoured ONPs the most popular flavour category. Restrictions on sales of flavoured tobacco products have either been implemented or proposed by several US states and localities. Zyn, the most popular ONP brand, is marketing Zyn Chill and Zyn Smooth as ‘Flavour-Ban Approved’ or ‘unflavoured’, probably to evade flavour bans and increase product appeal. At present, it is unclear whether these ONPs are indeed free of flavour additives that can impart pleasant sensations such as cooling.
Methods Sensory cooling and irritant activities of ‘Flavour-Ban Approved’ Zyn ONPs, Chill and Smooth, along with minty varieties (Cool Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Menthol), were analysed by Ca2+ microfluorimetry in HEK293 cells expressing the cold/menthol (TRPM8) or menthol/irritant receptor (TRPA1). Flavour chemical content of these ONPs was analysed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.
Results Zyn Chill ONP extracts robustly activated TRPM8, with much higher efficacy (39%–53%) than the mint-flavoured ONPs. In contrast, mint-flavoured ONP extracts elicited stronger TRPA1 irritant receptor responses than Chill extracts. Chemical analysis demonstrated that Chill exclusively contained WS-3, an odourless synthetic cooling agent, while mint-flavoured ONPs contained WS-3 together with mint flavourants.
Conclusions ONP products marketed as ‘Flavour-Ban Approved’ or ‘unflavoured’ contain flavouring agents, proving that the manufacturer’s advertising is misleading. Synthetic coolants such as WS-3 can provide a robust cooling sensation with reduced sensory irritancy, thereby increasing product appeal and use. Regulators need to develop effective strategies for the control of odourless sensory additives used by the industry to bypass flavour bans.
- non-cigarette tobacco products
- tobacco industry
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