The Dark Side of Flavors

Flavor use in alcohol, vape and cannabis

Flavors are one of the largest single factors affecting our choice to purchase a food item. Beyond foods, flavors find use in alcoholic beverages, vape and cannabis.


Manufactured flavors are aroma, taste and sensate components that dull the harshness of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana. Examples of the some of the more appealing flavored adult products include:

  • Wine coolers and flavored vodka
  • Clove cigarettes (Kretet)
  • Mint flavored chew
  • Banana Cream vape juice
  • Cherry gummies (cannabis infused edible)
  • Mango Haze Bud e-liquid (marijuana concentrate)


If you went to High School in the 80’s, you’ll remember Bartel & Jaymes wine coolers. Flavor chemists worked diligently to develop flavors for these types of beverages and assure that they were compliant with regulations.

The TTB (Alcohol Tax and Tobacco and Trade Bureau) requests all all flavor formulations to be submitted on FIDS (Flavor Ingredient Data Sheets) before a product is sent to market. They also assure all ingredients are at approved levels.

In the 80’s, flavor companies also extracted tobacco leaves and sold it to tobacco companies as flavor. That business went away when ABC aired the documentary Day One/Smoke Screen in 1994. The documentary implied that the tobacco industry was fortifying cigarettes with nicotine. It also prompted the tobacco industry to publish a list of cigarette tobacco and flavor ingredients.

FDA took stronger interest in cigarette manufacturing and youth smoking and fought for tighter regulations to protect public health. Eventually, in 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act allowed FDA to ban all use of flavors in cigarettes (except menthol).

ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems)

ENDS (also know as electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping devices) are battery-powered devices that smoke or “vape” a flavored nicotine solution.

CASAA (Consumer Advocates for a Smoke-free Alternative Association) claim it was 2003 when the first successful e-cigarette made its debut. ENDS are a potential method for traditional cigarette smokers to break the cigarette habit.

It was not until 2016 , though, that FDA finally got the authority to regulate ENDS. That means that prior to 2016, FDA had no authority to review ingredients in vape juice and take action because of the flavor’s appeal to youth.

Now that FDA has authority, the agency is prioritizing curbing youth use of vape and is allowing manufacturers until August 2022 to submit applications for premarket authorization of these products.

FDA has issued warning letters to retailers that sold vape to underage consumers as well as issued warning letters to companies that manufacturer flavored vape juice products that are especially appealing to youth (cherry lemonade, cotton candy, chocolate sundae).

Recent Developments

It is now September 2019, and ENDS manufacturers, like JUUL are preparing premarket approval authorization paperwork for FDA. But FDA is getting very impatient with JUUL’s tactics to market products to youth. Just last week, they issued a warning letter to JUUL telling them to stop such tactics immediately.

CDC (Center for Disease Control) is warning the public that there are instances of serious lung illnesses and deaths related to vaping. Some are related to THC or CBD vaping and some to nicotine only vape. They are urging the public to stop using vape.

States that allow the use of recreational marijuana products, including concentrates for vaping are now considering changing regulations to assure public safety. Washington is one such state.

One might question why states even allowed such products in the first place. Who is the agency inquiring on the formulations used in THC oils for vaping? Is there a process to review flavor ingredients in THC/CBD vape concentrates and a process to review flavor appeal to youth?

Flavor Safety

Flavor ingredients undergo an exhaustive review process before they are considered safe for use in food or beverage (including alcoholic beverages). Flavors have not undergone the same review for use in vape and are not considered safe for this application.

Flavor ingredients are harmful to heat and inhale. Some ingredients require use of special safety equipment.

Personally, I would not choose to vape flavors. This is because I have asthma. Diagnosed at age 38 after 14 years working in the flavor industry.

Flavored Cannabis

Did those of us voting to legalize marijuana understand it would include candies, beverages, ice cream? As well as THC fortified bud and concentrates for vaping? Potency of THC in products has increased from 4% in plant material in 1995 to 12% in 2014. The pot we knew in the 80’s is not the same as what is in the market today.

Canada did not allow for cannabis edibles or concentrates in their current law, but will consider allowing these in October of 2019. News of THC vaping related illnesses may influence Canada’s decision to add concentrates to their list of allowable products.

Our Youth

It’s impossible to argue that flavoring alcohol, nicotine and marijuana doesn’t make these products more appealing to youth. And, we know that because adolescents still have developing brains, use of such substances can affect their long term health.

Parents try to protect their kids, but adolescence is the time when kids test the boundaries, break the rules and live fearlessly. Products like Blueberry Vape YOLO (you only live once) appeal to young people and also send them to the emergency room. The only way to protect youth is not allow the products and take action against the companies that sell these products.


  1. Tanya Bradley says:

    100% agree!

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