Big Tobacco’s Latest Workaround

January 11th, 2024

While the FDA recently delayed their announcement of the final rule to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, tobacco companies are already finding new ways to get around it. 

The FDA-approved ban was expected to get final approval in August 2023; however, it was delayed until at least March 2024. Recently, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that the decision “will take significantly more time” due to the extensive public feedback received, including concerns from various civil rights and criminal justice groups. An administration official indicated that it’s difficult to specify a current timeline for a final decision, as further discussions are needed to address these concerns.

In anticipation, tobacco manufacturers began using synthetic cooling agents like WS-3, which mimic menthol’s ability to make tobacco products less irritating and more appealing.

These cooling agents are added to tobacco products to create “Ice” flavors, which are a favorite among teens who smoke or vape. According to the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, 57.9% of kids who smoke/vape use “Ice” tobacco products.

The use of flavoring in tobacco products is a growing concern. Nearly 90% of youth who use tobacco use flavored products, easing their pathway to addiction. Fruit flavors are the most popular among teens who use e-cigarettes (63.4%), while 20.1% of youth who vape use mint/menthol-flavored products, making them the second most popular flavors.1.

Flavoring in tobacco products is not only a concern for young people but also for adults. Studies show that flavored tobacco products are more difficult to quit than non-flavored tobacco products. The flavors can mask the harsh taste of tobacco, which makes it easier to continue using tobacco products and hinders efforts to reduce smoking-related illnesses.

In addition to the use of synthetic cooling agents, products like flavor cards, gels, drops, and capsules infuse flavors into otherwise unflavored cigarettes. Flavor cards are inserted into cigarette packs to infuse cigarettes with the card’s taste and aromas. These products are designed to hook young people and adults by making cigarettes more appealing and palatable.

Even in states that have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, flavor cards, and similar additives can evade prohibitions and remain available on store shelves, undermining flavor restrictions.

Tobacco companies have also employed marketing tactics that target specific demographics, such as women and minority groups. These tactics include using bright colors, sleek packaging, and promoting menthol and flavored products as “safer” alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

Communities do not have to wait for the FDA to act and can counter the tobacco industry now, such as:

  • Restricting tobacco marketing practices aimed at lowering tobacco prices, including coupons and price discounts.
  • Increasing the price of tobacco products to have a large and rapid impact on reducing rates of tobacco use.
  • Supporting communities seeking to limit children’s and youth’s exposure to tobacco advertising within the community.
  • Supporting local applications of the U.S. Tobacco Control Act authority for local governments to regulate the time, place, and manner of tobacco product advertising, such as limiting the number and size of tobacco ads.

For people wanting to quit tobacco, there are options. Whether you’re ready to quit today or you’re just starting to think about it, you’ll find information and free resources at and Young people in Colorado between 12 and 17  years old can get support to quit through

1. CDC. (2022, November 10). Quick facts on the risks of e-cigarettes for kids, teens, and young adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC.