YouTube videos from smokers on RJR “non-menthol” cigarettes say they are still flavored: Direct evidence they violate California law

Customer reviews posted to YouTube provide evidence that RJ Reynolds’ new “non-menthol” cigarettes are still flavored and violate California’s (and local) bans on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The most extensive example is a detailed product review:

  • Around 3:53, the reviewer sniffs the Camel Crisp Non-Menthol cigarette and says it smells like vanilla, sweet, and an “icy” sensation. Starting at around 6:03, he says “I’m not gonna lie, it tastes like ice,” like cold, and “it’s definitely still menthol, even if it says non-menthol on the box.” And then, “they’re lying. They just want a loophole by making it ice.”
  • Around 6:51, he says, “I think they put menthol in the filter, so they got around it by not making the tobacco menthol-flavored, but the filter is menthol flavored.”
  • Around 7:29, he says he’s picking up a vanilla-like flavor “under the icyness. There’s some kind of flavoring in this.”
  • Around 8:40, when describing the flavor, he says there’s a “vanilla sweetness under the minty, ice sensation… there’s different categories of menthol, there’s spearmint, there’s peppermint, there’s ice.”

In a second video, at around :45, the woman says the Newport non-menthols “still have a hint of menthol in them,” which she repeats in the Comments section:

“Salvador Prado Ramos: Are they good though?

“Reply: Karimah Jackson: They’re actually not that bad. There’s still a slight hint of menthol. I’m not sure how their doing it. Try em out. And tell me what you think.”

A third video describes how the woman was confused by the Newport non-menthol pack because it is essentially identical to the Newport Menthols pack, and in the Comments section someone posted:

“Whome87 Hathorn: Then they already have non menthol but wtf is making it have that taste. I dont trust it”

What do RJR’s taste panels show?

One thing that RJR may be counting on is the reluctance of authorities to challenge its assertion that their “non-menthol” products are not flavored. Authorities may be concerned about RJR suing them if they instruct retail stores to stop selling these products. 

Such a lawsuit could actually produce an opportunity, because it would open RJR up to discovery.  The defendant jurisdiction could subpoena RJR’s taste testing panel research on the new products to see what flavor experience RJR engineered the new sub-brands to deliver.  (Indeed, if RJR thought that such discovery was a serious risk, it might make them more reluctant to open that pandora’s box by filing such a suit.) Such testing is a routine part of cigarette (and other tobacco product design).

In addition, FDA has the authority to demand documents from the companies as part of its regulatory authority.  FDA should obtain the flavor panel data for these products to use in finalizing its product standard for menthol.  Although the proposed standard prohibits menthol as a “characterizing flavor,” FDA said factors it believes are relevant in determining whether a cigarette has a characterizing flavor include not only the presence of flavor additives, but also the “multisensory experience (i.e., taste, aroma, and cooling or burning sensations in the mouth and throat) of a flavor during use.”  These videos provide evidence that RJR’s so-called “non-menthol” cigarettes provide a multisensory sensory flavor experience: they taste like menthol, vanilla, and/or ice and provide a cooling sensation associated with menthol and other minty flavors.  

Thanks to Lauren Lempert for finding these videos.

Published by Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz is a retired Professor of Medicine who served on the University of California San Francisco faculty for 45 years. He conducts research on tobacco and cannabis control and cardiovascular disease/

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