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Tob Control. 2019 Mar;28(2):152-160. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-054152. Epub 2018 May 23.

Sensory analysis of characterising flavours: evaluating tobacco product odours using an expert panel.

Author information

Centre for Health Protection, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands.
Division of Human Nutrition and Health, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Division of Food and Biobased Research, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
OP&P Product Research BV, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Tobacco flavours are an important regulatory concept in several jurisdictions, for example in the USA, Canada and Europe. The European Tobacco Products Directive 2014/40/EU prohibits cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco having a characterising flavour. This directive defines characterising flavour as 'a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco […]'. To distinguish between products with and without a characterising flavour, we trained an expert panel to identify characterising flavours by smelling.


An expert panel (n=18) evaluated the smell of 20 tobacco products using self-defined odour attributes, following Quantitative Descriptive Analysis. The panel was trained during 14 attribute training, consensus training and performance monitoring sessions. Products were assessed during six test sessions. Principal component analysis, hierarchical clustering (four and six clusters) and Hotelling's T-tests (95% and 99% CIs) were used to determine differences and similarities between tobacco products based on odour attributes.


The final attribute list contained 13 odour descriptors. Panel performance was sufficient after 14 training sessions. Products marketed as unflavoured that formed a cluster were considered reference products. A four-cluster method distinguished cherry-flavoured, vanilla-flavoured and menthol-flavoured products from reference products. Six clusters subdivided reference products into tobacco leaves, roll-your-own and commercial products.


An expert panel was successfully trained to assess characterising odours in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco. This method could be applied to other product types such as e-cigarettes. Regulatory decisions on the choice of reference products and significance level are needed which directly influences the products being assessed as having a characterising odour.


advertising and promotion; prevention; public policy

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: This manuscript is an adaptation of part of the report entitled ‘Mapping of best practices and development of testing methods and procedures for identification of characterizing flavors in tobacco products’ written by the HETOC Consortium, consisting of the same authors as the current manuscript.

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