Background: The U.S. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 banned characterizing flavors in cigarettes except menthol. Non-characterizing flavors are still commonly used and may cause harm because the positive sensory effects (e.g. smell, taste, feel) facilitate the ease of tobacco use. Licorice is a common non-characterizing flavor and 63% of Mafco Worldwide’s licorice product sales, the world’s main distributor of licorice, are to tobacco industry (1). Licorice’s sensory effects can reinforce the effects of nicotine and increase the abuse liability of flavored tobacco to consumers at risk for cancer.
Aim: This study investigates how tobacco industry uses licorice additives to alter consumer sensory perceptions and make tobacco more palatable.
Methods: We used the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library to identify documents relevant to the sensory perceptions of licorice in tobacco products. The initial search terms included licorice, sensory, and sensory qualities. We used a snowball technique to review additional documents.
Results: Tobacco industry has tested several types of licorice (e.g. spray dried powder, block juice, spray dried powder with block juice flavor, and licorice derivatives) and in combination with additives like cocoa and menthol to modify consumer sensory perceptions. Although each type has different effects, overall, licorice has been used to increase sweetness, enhance flavor and aroma, and mask undesirable characteristics such as the irritation and harshness of tobacco. Licorice reduces dryness to the mouth by improving the moisture of the tobacco product, which contributes to its increased shelf life. Licorice is known to enhance the core qualities of tobacco, while increasing the body, depth and smoothness of the smoke.
Conclusions: Preliminary results support the hypothesis that licorice is commonly used to enhance consumer sensory experiences. To reduce the burden of cancer globally, additional research is needed to determine how licorice contributes to the abuse liability of tobacco.