Advertisement
Browse Subject Areas
?

Click through the PLOS taxonomy to find articles in your field.

For more information about PLOS Subject Areas, click here.

  • Loading metrics

A systematic review of consumer preference for e-cigarette attributes: Flavor, nicotine strength, and type

  • Samane Zare ,

    Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Software, Supervision, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    samane.zare@uky.edu

    Affiliation Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, United States of America

  • Mehdi Nemati,

    Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, United States of America

  • Yuqing Zheng

    Roles Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Supervision, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, United States of America

A systematic review of consumer preference for e-cigarette attributes: Flavor, nicotine strength, and type

  • Samane Zare, 
  • Mehdi Nemati, 
  • Yuqing Zheng
PLOS
x

Abstract

Objective

Systematic review of research examining consumer preference for the main electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) attributes namely flavor, nicotine strength, and type.

Method

A systematic search of peer-reviewed articles resulted in a pool of 12,933 articles. We included only articles that meet all the selection criteria: (1) peer-reviewed, (2) written in English, and (3) addressed consumer preference for one or more of the e-cigarette attributes including flavor, strength, and type.

Results

66 articles met the inclusion criteria for this review. Consumers preferred flavored e-cigarettes, and such preference varied with age groups and smoking status. We also found that several flavors were associated with decreased harm perception while tobacco flavor was associated with increased harm perception. In addition, some flavor chemicals and sweeteners used in e-cigarettes could be of toxicological concern. Finally, consumer preference for nicotine strength and types depended on smoking status, e-cigarette use history, and gender.

Conclusion

Adolescents could consider flavor the most important factor trying e-cigarettes and were more likely to initiate vaping through flavored e-cigarettes. Young adults overall preferred sweet, menthol, and cherry flavors, while non-smokers in particular preferred coffee and menthol flavors. Adults in general also preferred sweet flavors (though smokers like tobacco flavor the most) and disliked flavors that elicit bitterness or harshness. In terms of whether flavored e-cigarettes assisted quitting smoking, we found inconclusive evidence. E-cigarette users likely initiated use with a cigarette like product and transitioned to an advanced system with more features. Non-smokers and inexperienced e-cigarettes users tended to prefer no nicotine or low nicotine e-cigarettes while smokers and experienced e-cigarettes users preferred medium and high nicotine e-cigarettes. Weak evidence exists regarding a positive interaction between menthol flavor and nicotine strength.

Introduction

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been increasingly popular among youth [1] and adults [2, 3]. In 2014, the use of the e-cigarette surpassed cigarette usage in adolescents for the first time in history [4]. Unlike e-cigarettes, cigarettes have been the subject of heavy tobacco control policies that target specific product attributes. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority to regulate tobacco products, such as setting standards for cigarette nicotine and tar levels, banning flavored cigarettes except for menthol, and requiring cigarettes be sold in packs of at least twenty. Beginning in mid-2016, FDA extended their regulatory authority to e-cigarettes and has worked to level the playing field with cigarettes. One example is a mandatory nicotine and tobacco warning statement on e-cigarette product packages targeting a start date in 2018. However, they extended the deadline to 2022 for the vaping industry to comply with new FDA guidelines [5].

FDA also can regulate e-cigarette attributes. E-cigarettes have a variety of characterizing attributes, such as flavor, nicotine strength, type (also known as form), price, health warning, brand, battery life, e-liquid size, and device weight. Hundreds of e-cigarette flavors exist, including tobacco, menthol, fruit, and coffee, etc. E-cigarettes are also sold in different types, such as disposable versus refillable, and cigarette like (cigalike) versus advanced systems with more powerful batteries, a manual button, and a larger choice of liquid flavors. Strength is measured by the amount of nicotine in milligrams per milliliter of the e-liquid. Given the regulatory shift to the FDA and other potential policy changes at the local/state level (e.g., San Francisco is proposing to ban the sales of all flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes [6]), there is a critical need from a research perspective to understand how consumers perceive various e-cigarette attributes, which becomes the focus of this study.

Review studies on consumer preference for tobacco product attributes are largely limited to flavors, focusing on either preference for flavors that can be used in tobacco products [7] or flavored tobacco products in general [8]. Specifically, one study examined the available evidence of children and adults’ preferences for flavors that can be used in tobacco products. Their study, not specifically addressing preferences for e-cigarettes flavors, found that infants and children had a stronger preference for sweet and salt compared with adults [7]. Another study reviewed 32 studies on the use of and attitudes toward flavored tobacco products, of which only four studies are related to e-cigarettes [8]. A more recent study focused on non-menthol flavors in tobacco products [9]. Our study focuses on flavor, strength, and type as three key e-cigarette attributes, where the literature is mostly concentrated (e.g., we found no study addressing e-liquid size). In addition, results on flavor are classified by age cohorts, and categorized based on the contribution to smoke cessation, toxicity, and harm perception. These results will provide information that can be used to determine what regulations might be needed.

Materials and methods

Search strategy, study selection, and data extraction

We performed a systematic literature review using the search terms (“electronic cigarettes”, “e-cigarettes”, “electronic nicotine delivery systems”, “E-cig”, and “E-cigarette”) in five databases (PubMed, MEDLINE, Web of Science, PsycINFO, and CINAHL Plus) for publications studying consumer preference for e-cigarette attributes. Our search strategy used the Boolean search strategy to identify the potential studies for this review study only using one level based on the keywords mentioned above. Avoiding using further search filters is the advantage of our study, which reduces the risk of missing relevant studies. Also, for the same reason, we applied the same search terms to 11 journals that publish tobacco-related studies in addition to the five databases. These journals include Tobacco Control, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Addictive Behaviors, Addiction, Drug, and Alcohol Dependence, Health Education, Drug & Alcohol Review, Journal of Pediatrics, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, International Journal of Public Health, and Preventive Medicine Reports.

Studies examining humans of any age, race/ethnicity, gender, were eligible for this review. We began the search on October 1st, 2016 and finished the process on January 8th, 2018. We searched without imposing restrictions on date or year, locations, study design, study aim, or inclusion/exclusion criteria. Using the search procedure, we retrieved a pool of 12,933 articles with the title and abstract related to e-cigarettes.

Based on this pool, two reviewers screened titles and abstracts using the following inclusion criteria: (1) peer-reviewed and published papers, (2) written in English, (3) relevant to consumer preference for e-cigarettes attributes. Therefore, working papers, editorial comments and letters, and news articles were excluded. There are no temporal or geographical restrictions, and all international, national or subnational populations were included. Next based on our original pool and these criteria, following a previous study method [10] the two reviewers were also assigned to review 10% of randomly selected articles that were excluded by each other. Disagreements at each of these steps were resolved through discussion between the two reviewers, and with a third reviewer as required.

Results

We screened 12,933 references and studied the full text of a final 636 articles. All these 636 articles were published from 2010 through 2018, reflecting the popularity of research on e-cigarettes in recent years. Fig 1 describes the search process and the number of articles excluded in each step. After reviewing titles and abstracts, we excluded duplicates, irrelevant articles, editorials, and working papers. Next, full articles were reviewed and 570 articles were excluded from this review because they did not meet our inclusion criteria. For this study, we reviewed 66 articles, of which 13 were published in 2017, and 34 were published in 2016. These articles are divided into three main groups: flavor (48 studies), strength (22 studies), and type (14 studies). Some studies investigated consumer preference for more than one e-cigarette attributes. A full list of included and excluded articles and exclusion reasons is presented in S1 Appendix. PRISMA Checklist is presented in S1 Table.

thumbnail
Fig 1. Studies screened and selected for inclusion in the review of consumer preferences for e-cigarette attributes.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194145.g001

In Table 1, we provide a list of all the 66 articles, a short description of the sample (e.g., age, sample size, [cigarette] smokers, [e-cigarette] vapers, and location of the study if it is done in the countries other than the United States), summary of the findings, classification of data type (e.g., experiment, focus group, and survey), and finally methods (descriptive, regression, etc.). In this section, we summarize the findings in the literature regarding consumer preference for the three attributes (flavor, nicotine strength, and type).

thumbnail
Table 1. Summary of peer-reviewed literature on consumer preference for e-cigarette attributes.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194145.t001

Consumer preference for e-cigarette flavor

A survey of U.S. young adult and adult tobacco users found that flavored e-cigarettes are the fifth most frequently used flavored tobacco products out of nine in total, after shisha, cigarillos/little cigars, snus/smokeless, and pipes, and ahead of menthol cigarettes [61]. Similar results (except that pipes were the second most popular) were reported in another study of U.S. young adults and adults using a different data source [68]. Another study showed that among U.S. youth, just flavoring (no nicotine) was the most commonly vaped substances [47]. Flavored e-cigarettes were also found to be the first e-cigarettes for most youth, young adults, and adults vapers [34]. Furthermore, vapers ranked the selection of flavors and unique flavors as two of the most important factors in choosing between competing vape shops [66]. Based on social media data, a study found that the most frequently discussed flavors are fruit, cream, tobacco, and menthol [71]. Another study found that tobacco, menthol/mint, and fruit are the top three flavors preferred by consumers [73].

In the following subsections, we discuss consumer preference by three age cohorts, the impact of flavors on quitting smoking, and the health implications of flavors. The three age cohorts are adolescent, young adults, and adults, commonly defined by younger than 18, between 18 and 24, and older than 24; age groups are defined based on the National Health Interview Survey age groups definition [74]. Not all reviewed studies follow the above age cutoffs, so we used some discretion in classifying studies by age, and sometimes will use the mean age to determine the appropriate age cohort. To make our results more easily understandable, we tabulate results in Table 2, with +,–, and 0 representing the results of a study that found a positive preference, a negative preference, and no preference, respectively. We also use subscripts to denote results specific to smokers and non-smokers preference whenever possible.

Adolescents’ preference for flavor

Thirteen papers described adolescents’ preference for flavor [14, 20, 23, 31, 34, 40, 41, 52, 53, 58, 59, 69, 70]. A recent study showed that most adolescents started first e-cigarette with flavored ones [69]. Another study found that adolescents positively regarded e-cigarette flavor variety [70]. A study using longitudinal surveys from middle and high school students found flavoring is the second most important factor determining whether students try e-cigarettes, after curiosity and another study also reported the same findings [14, 40]. As to flavor and smoking initiation, flavored e-cigarette use was found to be associated with a higher intention to initiate cigarette use [23]. A study based on a national sample of U.K. adolescents found fruit and sweet flavors were more likely to be tried by adolescents who have never smoked than by smokers trying to quit [31]. A more recent study confirmed this using a choice experiment in the United States [58]. Another U.K. study also found tobacco flavor was less favorable compared with other ones such as fruit [20]. A phone survey reported that adolescents (mostly non-smokers) were more likely to try e-cigarettes with candy, fruit, and menthol flavors than tobacco or alcohol flavors [53]. A study reported that sweet flavors were most popular among Connecticut adolescents [41]. On the other hand, another study, conducted by mostly the same authors used an online survey to demonstrate that flavors (i.e., candy or fruit) did not increase adolescents’ willingness to try e-cigarettes, [52] offering a different view of U.S. adolescence preference for flavor. Another study also reported a similar finding, that e-cigarette flavors do not appeal much to nonsmoking teenagers [59].

Young adults’ preference for flavor

Eleven papers studied young adults’ preference for flavor [11, 19, 21, 22, 34, 35, 38, 42, 51, 69, 70]. A study found that similar to adolescents, young adults also positively regarded e-cigarette flavor variety [70]. French-speaking students also ranked flavors as the third most important reason for trying e-cigarettes, after curiosity and being offered by someone to try [38]. Furthermore, young adults seemed more likely to cite flavoring as a reason for use, especially compared with much older adults [51]. For the United States, a study showed that Texas adolescents and young adults were more likely to consider their first e-cigarettes to taste different from tobacco, compared with adults [34]. A study using lab experiments found that flavoring reinforced the desire to vape e-cigarettes containing nicotine [11]. A study using a focus group found that flavors contributed to positive perceptions of new e-cigarette products [19, 21]. In terms of specific flavors, a study found that sweet-flavored solutions produced greater appeal [35]. Using an online discrete choice experiment a study found that non-smokers were more interested in trying coffee, cherry, and menthol flavors while smokers were more interested in trying cherry flavor compared with other flavors [22]. One study found that high concentration of menthol led to better e-cigarette liking and wanting [42].

Adult’s preference for flavor

A total of thirteen studies described adults’ preference for flavor [13, 15, 22, 24, 27, 36, 49, 54, 56, 6063]. Two studies of adults using a concept mapping approach found that the variety of e-cigarette flavors was one reason they used e-cigarettes, and flavors may enhance the experience of e-cigarette use, respectively [62, 63]. A study of 33 countries mostly on ex- and current smokers showed that the most popular (or preferred) e-cigarette flavors in descending order were tobacco, fruit, and menthol [24]. For the United States, a study found that the descending order was fruit, menthol/mint, and candy/chocolate/other sweet flavors [15]. Another study on Malaysia showed that variety of flavors leads to better enjoyment [27].

A study found the first use of a flavored tobacco product was related to current flavored tobacco use and polytobacco use [61]. A study showed that older smokers [22] and another one showed current smokers [13] were more interested in trying tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes. A study compared gender differences in flavor preference and showed that men preferred tobacco flavors more than women did [54]. Another study indicated that adults preferred flavors that elicit sweetness or coolness while flavors that elicit bitterness or harshness (most likely coming from nicotine) were less preferred [36]. Flavors also generate a price premium for e-cigarettes by increasing consumers’ willingness to pay. In particular, a study of Florida smokers (92% adults and the rest young adults) concluded that willingness to pay for a flavor-less e-cigarette was significantly less than that for flavored product [49].

Flavors and smoking cessation

Only four studies touched on the relationship between e-cigarette flavors and quitting smoking [17, 22, 23, 49]. One found that menthol and coffee flavors were perceived as having greater quit efficacy [22]. Another study also had a similar finding but only for menthol [49]. A study also found that using a combination of two or more flavors mixed together was more likely to quit smoking [17]. However, in another study, flavored e-cigarette use was found to be associated with a lower intention to quit smoking [23].

The impact of flavor on health and harm perception

Seven studies addressed the impact of flavor on health and harm perception [23, 31, 35, 44, 53, 64, 67]. An analysis of 28 e-cigarette liquids purchased in Germany identified the presence of a wide range of flavors and additives, including some compounds that are potentially allergenic [35]. Similarly, a study of 30 e-cigarette products in the U.S. market found that 13 were more than 1% flavor chemicals by weight, some of which were of potential toxicological concern (e.g., cause respiratory irritation) [67]. Another study found that the use of sweeteners in e-cigarettes can expose users to furans, toxic compounds [64]. Furthermore, a study of five flavors across six types of e-cigarettes found that flavors significantly affected the in vitro toxicity profile and the strawberry-flavored product is the most toxic [44].

In terms of harm perception, one study found that flavored e-cigarette use reduced the prevalence of perception of the dangers of tobacco use among youth [23]. Another study found more nuanced results, demonstrating that tobacco flavor increased harm perception while fruit and sweet flavors decreased harm perception among U.K. adolescents [31]. Similarly, a study in the United States found that, for U.S. adolescents, fruit-flavored e-cigarettes were perceived to be less harmful than tobacco flavored ones [53].

Consumer preference for nicotine strength

Companies report nicotine strength in three ways: milligrams, percentages, or descriptors (e.g., low, medium, high) [75]. Nicotine strength depends on e-cigarette type and varies widely, for example, from 0.27 to 2.91 mg/15 puffs [26]. Nineteen studies addressed consumer preference for nicotine and/or the interaction of nicotine with flavors [16, 22, 24, 28, 29, 33, 37, 42, 43, 4648, 50, 5356, 65, 70]. One study showed that almost all e-cigarettes sold in most U.S. retail outlets (excluding vapor shops and online ones) contained nicotine [46]. Another study examined 33 countries and found that only 1% of the adult smokers exclusively used non-nicotine e-cigarettes and that the most popular concentration of nicotine was 18 mg/ml [24]. A study of Finnish adolescents found that e-liquids with nicotine were more popular with ever smokers while e-liquids without nicotine were more popular with never smokers [37]. A study found that nicotine was the second most commonly used vaped substance for U.S. youth, after pure flavoring and ahead of marijuana [47]. Despite this, about 20% of adolescents thought e-cigarettes had no nicotine or were unsure [53]. In another study, researchers reported the shares of Connecticut adolescents using nicotine-free e-liquid, nicotine e-liquid, and not knowing the nicotine concentration in their e-liquid were largely similar (about one-third each) [48].

One study showed that user control of nicotine content was a positive attribute of e-cigarettes [70]. Men were found to use higher nicotine doses, compared with women [54]. Amount of nicotine was found to be a leading reason for many European vapers to choose their brands of e-cigarettes (after flavor and price) [43]. A study found that low nicotine content increased intentions to try e-cigarettes, reduced harm perception, and was perceived as more effective at aiding in smoking cessation. Medium nicotine content was found to have the opposite effect of low nicotine content. They also found that younger non-smokers preferred no nicotine or low nicotine e-cigarettes while smokers preferred medium and high nicotine e-cigarettes [22], echoing the findings of another study in this area [37]. Another study also found smokers and heavier e-cigarettes users tended to prefer nicotine [48]. In contrary to findings from a study mentioned above [22], another study [28] found that e-cigarettes with a high level of nicotine provided stronger attenuation of craving for tobacco, based on e-cigarette users from over seven countries. A later study by the same author found that experienced vapers who are trying to quit smoking decreased the nicotine concentration by using refillable e-cigarettes but increased the overall consumption in the e-liquids overtime to compensate [29]. A similar finding of decreased use of nicotine strength was reported by another study as well [55]. However, the opposite was reported in another study and interpreted as a strong motivation to quit smoking rather than using e-cigarettes recreationally [16].

Several studies addressed potential interactions of flavors and nicotine strength/concentration. A study of young adult vapers showed that nicotine increased user reports of throat hit but did not enhance appeal or interact with flavor effects on appeal [33]. On the other hand, a recent study [42] found evidence (weakly statistically significant, p = 0.06) of positive nicotine*menthol interaction, echoed by another study as well [56]. Also, there is evidence that flavor may influence nicotine concentrations in women vapers (using nonpreferred flavors led to lower concentrations) [50]. The mechanism could be that flavors may influence the rate of nicotine absorption through an effect on pH [65].

Consumer preference for types

Twelve studies touched on consumer preference for e-cigarette types [12, 18, 24, 25, 30, 32, 39, 41, 54, 57, 58, 72]. In general, e-cigarettes can be divided into three generations: cigarette resembling first generation, pen resembling second generation that uses larger batteries and tanks, and no-cigarette resembling third generation that features even larger-capacity batteries, more advanced atomizers, and adjustable power delivery [25]. There is an evidence that second-generation devices seemed to be more satisfying to U.K. e-cigarette users [25]. Similarly, another study found that newer-generation devices were more satisfactory and effective in smoke cessation [30].

A study of adult ever smokers found that consumer preference for e-cigarette types was associated with smoking cessation. Specifically, open systems were more likely to be used by former smokers than current smokers and were more likely to be used daily than closed systems. Interestingly, most users used either closed systems or open systems, and rarely used both [18]. Women were found to prefer disposable e-cigarettes, and young adults were found to pay more attention to modifiability [39, 54]. Modifiability also was found to increase the probability of initiating e-cigarettes among adolescents [58]. A study found that about three-fourths of smokers used a tank system, which allows users to choose flavors and strength to mix their own liquid [24]. Experienced e-cigarette users even ranked the ability to customize as the most important characteristic [12]. Also, a study reported that experienced users preferred rechargeable e-cigarettes over disposable ones [32]. A similar finding was reported for Connecticut adolescents [41].

A study that examined top-selling e-cigarette websites found that most independent e-cigarette brands offered advanced systems (as opposed to first-generation e-cigarettes) that might appeal more to experienced e-cigarette users or smokers wanting to quit. In contrast, this study found that e-cigarette brands developed or acquired by cigarette manufacturers did not offer advanced systems [57]. Another study used an online survey provided similar finding––e-cigarette users likely initiated use with a cigalike product and transitioned to an advanced system with more features [72].

Discussion

Principal findings

Several results emerge from our literature review. First, several studies have shown that consumers preferred flavored e-cigarettes and such preference varied with age group and smoking status. Adolescents could consider flavor the most important factor in their decision to try e-cigarettes and were more likely to initiate vaping through flavored e-cigarettes (especially fruit and sweet ones for non-smokers). Young adults overall preferred sweet, menthol, and cherry flavors, while non-smokers, in particular, preferred coffee and menthol flavors. Adults preferred sweet flavors, too and disliked flavors that elicit bitterness or harshness. Adult smokers (especially men) liked tobacco flavor the most, followed by menthol and fruit flavors. In terms of smoking cessation, we found inconclusive evidence on the role of flavored e-cigarettes.

Second, we also found that several flavors were associated with decreased harm perception (e.g., sweet and fruit) while tobacco flavor was associated with increased harm perception. Our review identified several studies showing that some flavor chemicals and sweeteners used in e-cigarettes could be of toxicological concern.

Third, in terms of nicotine strength, the literature demonstrated that nicotine increased throat hit and user control of nicotine content is a positive attribute of e-cigarettes. Consumer ranked nicotine strength as an important factor choosing among various e-cigarettes, though such preference could vary by smoking status, e-cigarette use history, and gender. Specifically, non-smokers and inexperienced e-cigarettes users tended to prefer no nicotine or low nicotine e-cigarettes while smokers and experienced e-cigarettes users preferred medium and high nicotine e-cigarettes. Men were found to prefer higher nicotine doses. The evidence on whether user increased or decreased nicotine strength over time seemed rather inconclusive.

Fourth, an interesting result that emerges from our review is the potential interactions between e-cigarette attributes. We identified a handful studies on the interactions between flavors and nicotine strength, and found weak evidence of positive interactions between the two (i.e., nicotine*menthol). Future studies on the interactions of e-cigarette attributes are warranted.

Finally, we found that newer-generation devices were more satisfying to consumers. Consumer preference for e-cigarette types could depend on smoking status, user experience, gender, and age. Women and inexperienced e-cigarette users were found to prefer disposable e-cigarettes, and experienced e-cigarette users and young adults were found to pay more attention to modifiability. Open systems were more likely used by former smokers than current smokers and were more likely used daily, compared with closed systems. E-cigarette users likely initiated use with a cigalike product and transitioned to an advanced system with more features.

Limitations

This study is the first comprehensive review of e-cigarette attributes. However, there are a few limitations to this review. First, although most reviewed studies on e-cigarettes indicated ethnicity, education, and income level in sample characteristics, a few of them analyzed consumer preferences across different races, incomes or education levels; for example, we only found four studies on preference for flavored e-cigarette by race [15, 51, 61, 68]. Therefore, we were not able to discuss our results across these demographics the same way that we did for age cohorts. Second, because of heterogeneity in demographic age ranges in the studies, we had to use some discretion (e.g., using mean age) matching individual studies to particular age cohorts. For example, in one study the age range is 18-30-years-old, and we considered it as a young adult cohort (18-24-years-old) [11]. Also, another study reported a mean age of 35 [63], and we placed it in the adult cohort (more than 25 years old). Finally, this study was restricted to peer-reviewed articles available in English, and most of them focused only on the United States (53 out of 66 studies), which limits the external validity of this research.

Implications for research, policy, and practice

Our research generates many results that might be useful to policymakers and other researchers. First, the results summarized here provide insightful information regarding the potential impact of a restriction on certain e-cigarette attribute(s). For example, Canada bans the sales of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. If such a policy were adopted in the United States, it is reasonable to assume smokers will be affected the most by such a policy. Similarly, if the FDA bans the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, we might expect to see a drop in e-cigarette initiation rate and prevalence rate. Second, our results point to a contradiction between facts and perception. For example, sweet flavor was perceived as less harmful though several studies indicated otherwise due to certain flavor chemicals. If consumers were informed of the potential harm of using flavored e-cigarettes, their purchasing decisions might change. Finally, our results also provide insight into research gap. For example, certain flavors such as strawberry and coolness receive little examination. There is also no study conducted on the potential interaction between flavor and types, and between nicotine strength and types.

Conclusions

In this paper, we systematically reviewed peer-reviewed articles on three key e-cigarette attributes (flavors, nicotine strength, and type). We summarized main findings of 66 identified studies in two tables. Overall, our results reveal that consumers preferred flavored e-cigarettes that such preference varied with age groups and smoking status, that flavoring could be associated with toxicity, though many consumers believed otherwise. Consumer considered nicotine strength an important factor when purchasing e-cigarettes and found newer-generation devices are more satisfying to consumers; however, such preferences might depend on smoking status, e-cigarette use history, and gender.

Supporting information

S1 Appendix. Search strategy, included, and excluded articles full list.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194145.s001

(DOCX)

References

  1. 1. Bunnell RE, Agaku IT, Arrazola RA, Apelberg BJ, Caraballo RS, Corey CG, et al. Intentions to smoke cigarettes among never-smoking us middle and high school electronic cigarette users: National youth tobacco survey, 2011–2013. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(2):228–35. PubMed PMID: WOS:000350142300018. pmid:25143298
  2. 2. King BA, Alam S, Promoff G, Arrazola R, Dube SR. Awareness and ever-use of electronic cigarettes among u.S. Adults, 2010–2011. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2013;15(9):1623–7. PubMed PMID: 2013-29320-019. pmid:23449421
  3. 3. Mcmillen RC, Gottlieb MA, Shaefer RMW, Winickoff JP, Klein JD. Trends in electronic cigarette use among u.S. Adults: Use is increasing in both smokers and nonsmokers. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(10):1195–202. PubMed PMID: 2015-42983-003. pmid:25381306
  4. 4. Arrazola RA, Singh T, Corey CG, Husten CG, Neff LJ, Apelberg BJ, et al. Tobacco use among middle and high school students—united states, 2011–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep: 2015.
  5. 5. Fda announces comprehensive regulatory plan to shift trajectory of tobacco-related disease, death [Internet]. U.S. Food & Drug Administration; 2017. Press Release, July
  6. 6. Korry E. San francisco seeks to ban sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored tobacco products2017 04/19/2017 [cited 2017 04/19/2017]. Available from: http://californiahealthline.org/news/sf-seeks-to-ban-sale-of-menthol-cigarettes-and-flavored-tobacco-products/.
  7. 7. Hoffman AC, Salgado RV, Dresler C, Faller RW, Bartlett C. Flavour preferences in youth versus adults: A review. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):32–9. PubMed PMID: 2016-61125-005. pmid:27633764
  8. 8. Feirman SP, Lock D, Cohen JE, Holtgrave DR, Li T. Flavored tobacco products in the united states: A systematic review assessing use and attitudes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;18(5):739–49.
  9. 9. Huang L-L, Baker HM, Meernik C, Ranney LM, Richardson A, Goldstein AO. Impact of non-menthol flavours in tobacco products on perceptions and use among youth, young adults and adults: A systematic review. Tobacco Control. 2017;26(6):709–19. PubMed PMID: WOS:000413529500026. pmid:27872344
  10. 10. Hartwell G, Thomas S, Egan M, Gilmore A, Petticrew M. E-cigarettes and equity: A systematic review of differences in awareness and use between sociodemographic groups. Tobacco Control. 2016;(0):1–7.
  11. 11. Audrain-Mcgovern J, Strasser AA, Wileyto EP. The impact of flavoring on the rewarding and reinforcing value of e-cigarettes with nicotine among young adult smokers. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016;166:263–7. PubMed PMID: 2016-35218-001. pmid:27426010
  12. 12. Baweja R, Curci KM, Yingst J, Veldheer S, Hrabovsky S, Wilson SJ, et al. Views of experienced electronic cigarette users. Addiction Research & Theory. 2016;24(1):80–8. PubMed PMID: 2016-08848-011. pmid:29176939
  13. 13. Berg CJ. Preferred flavors and reasons for e-cigarette use and discontinued use among never, current, and former smokers. International Journal of Public Health. 2016;61(2):225–36. PubMed PMID: WOS:000373180100011. pmid:26582009
  14. 14. Bold KW, Kong G, Cavallo DA, Camenga DR, Krishnan-Sarin S. Reasons for trying e-cigarettes and risk of continued use. Pediatrics. 2016;138(3). Epub 2016/08/10. pmid:27503349; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC5005025 conflicts of interest to disclose.
  15. 15. Bonhomme MG, Holder-Hayes E, Ambrose BK, Tworek C, Feirman SP, King BA, et al. Flavoured non-cigarette tobacco product use among us adults: 2013–2014. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):4–13. PubMed PMID: 2016-61125-002. pmid:27794065
  16. 16. Browne M, Todd DG. Then and now: Consumption and dependence in e-cigarette users who formerly smoked cigarettes. Addictive Behaviors. 2018;76:113–21. PubMed PMID: WOS:000412959900017. pmid:28780356
  17. 17. Camenga DR, Kong G, Cavallo DA, Krishnan-Sarin S. Current and former smokers' use of electronic cigarettes for quitting smoking: An exploratory study of adolescents and young adults. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2017;19(12):1531–5. PubMed PMID: WOS:000414562900018. pmid:27663781
  18. 18. Chen C, Zhuang Y-L, Zhu S-H. E-cigarette design preference and smoking cessation: A u.S. Population study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2016;51(3):356–63. PubMed PMID: 2016-41616-012. pmid:27005984
  19. 19. Choi K, Fabian L, Mottey N, Corbett A, Forster J. Young adults’ favorable perceptions of snus, dissolvable tobacco products, and electronic cigarettes: Findings from a focus group study. American Journal of Public Health. 2012;102(11):2088–93. pmid:22813086
  20. 20. Clarke TN, Lusher JM. Willingness to try electronic cigarettes among uk adolescents. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse. 2017;26(3):175–82. PubMed PMID: 2017-15455-001.
  21. 21. Cooper M, Harrell MB, Perry CL. A qualitative approach to understanding real-world electronic cigarette use: Implications for measurement and regulation. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2016;13. PubMed PMID: WOS:000375199500007. pmid:26766848
  22. 22. Czoli CD, Goniewicz M, Islam T, Kotnowski K, Hammond D. Consumer preferences for electronic cigarettes: Results from a discrete choice experiment. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(e1):e30–e6. pmid:26490845
  23. 23. Dai H, Hao J. Flavored electronic cigarette use and smoking among youth. Pediatrics. 2016;138(6). PubMed PMID: WOS:000388924800056. pmid:27940718
  24. 24. Dawkins L, Turner J, Roberts A, Soar K. ‘Vaping’profiles and preferences: An online survey of electronic cigarette users. Addiction. 2013;108(6):1115–25. pmid:23551515
  25. 25. Dawkins L, Kimber C, Puwanesarasa Y, Soar K. First‐ versus second‐generation electronic cigarettes: Predictors of choice and effects on urge to smoke and withdrawal symptoms. Addiction. 2015;110(4):669–77. PubMed PMID: 2015-11906-012. pmid:25407505
  26. 26. El-Hellani A, Salman R, El-Hage R, Talih S, Malek N, Baalbaki R, et al. Nicotine and carbonyl emissions from popular electronic cigarette products: Correlation to liquid composition and design characteristics. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2018;20(2):215–23. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntw280.
  27. 27. Elkalmi RM, Bhagavathul AS, Ya'u A, Al-Dubai SaR, Elsayed TM, Ahmad A, et al. Familiarity, perception, and reasons for electronic-cigarette experimentation among the general public in malaysia: Preliminary insight. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences. 2016;8(3):240–7. PubMed PMID: WOS:000384438300011. pmid:27413354
  28. 28. Etter JF. Explaining the effects of electronic cigarettes on craving for tobacco in recent quitters. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2015;148:102–8. Epub 2015/01/17. pmid:25592454
  29. 29. Etter J-F. A longitudinal study of cotinine in long-term daily users of e-cigarettes. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016;160:218–21. PubMed PMID: WOS:000371837200029. pmid:26804899
  30. 30. Etter J-F. Characteristics of users and usage of different types of electronic cigarettes: Findings from an online survey. Addiction. 2016;111(4):724–33. PubMed PMID: WOS:000372907400025. pmid:26597453
  31. 31. Ford A, Mackintosh AM, Bauld L, Moodie C, Hastings G. Adolescents’ responses to the promotion and flavouring of e-cigarettes. International Journal of Public Health. 2016;61(2):215–24. PubMed PMID: 2015-56148-001. pmid:26650455
  32. 32. Giovenco DP, Lewis MJ, Delnevo CD. Factors associated with e-cigarette use: A national population survey of current and former smokers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014;47(4):476–80. PubMed PMID: 2014-41295-018. pmid:24880986
  33. 33. Goldenson NI, Kirkpatrick MG, Barrington-Trimis JL, Pang RD, Mcbeth JF, Pentz MA, et al. Effects of sweet flavorings and nicotine on the appeal and sensory properties of e-cigarettes among young adult vapers: Application of a novel methodology. Drug & Alcohol Dependence. 2016;168:176–80. pmid:27676583
  34. 34. Harrell M, Weaver S, Loukas A, Creamer M, Marti C, Jackson C, et al. Flavored e-cigarette use: Characterizing youth, young adult, and adult users. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2017;5:33–40. pmid:27896041
  35. 35. Hutzler C, Paschke M, Kruschinski S, Henkler F, Hahn J, Luch A. Chemical hazards present in liquids and vapors of electronic cigarettes. Archives of Toxicology. 2014;88(7):1295–308. pmid:24958024
  36. 36. Kim H, Lim J, Buehler SS, Brinkman MC, Johnson NM, Wilson L, et al. Role of sweet and other flavours in liking and disliking of electronic cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):55–61. PubMed PMID: 2016-61125-008. pmid:27708124
  37. 37. Kinnunen JM, Ollila H, Lindfors PL, Rimpelae AH. Changes in electronic cigarette use from 2013 to 2015 and reasons for use among finnish adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(11). PubMed PMID: WOS:000389571300073. pmid:27834885
  38. 38. Kinouani S, Pereira E, Tzourio C. Electronic cigarette use in students and its relation with tobacco-smoking: A cross-sectional analysis of the i-share study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017;14(11). PubMed PMID: WOS:000416545200061. pmid:29113070
  39. 39. Kistler CE, Crutchfield TM, Sutfin EL, Ranney LM, Berman ML, Zarkin GA, et al. Consumers' preferences for electronic nicotine delivery system product features: A structured content analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017;14(6). Epub 2017/06/08. pmid:28590444; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC5486299.
  40. 40. Kong G, Morean ME, Cavallo DA, Camenga DR, Krishnan-Sarin S. Reasons for electronic cigarette experimentation and discontinuation among adolescents and young adults. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(7):847–54. PubMed PMID: WOS:000357888500012. pmid:25481917
  41. 41. Krishnan-Sarin S, Morean ME, Camenga DR, Cavallo DA, Kong G. E-cigarette use among high school and middle school adolescents in connecticut. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(7):810–8. PubMed PMID: 2015-26024-007. pmid:25385873
  42. 42. Krishnan-Sarin S, Green BG, Kong G, Cavallo DA, Jatlow P, Gueorguieva R, et al. Studying the interactive effects of menthol and nicotine among youth: An examination using e-cigarettes. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2017;180:193–9. PubMed PMID: WOS:000414816600026. pmid:28915478
  43. 43. Laverty AA, Vardavas CI, Filippidis FT. Design and marketing features influencing choice of e-cigarettes and tobacco in the eu. European Journal of Public Health. 2016;26(5):838–41. PubMed PMID: 2017-26386-012. pmid:27471217
  44. 44. Leigh NJ, Lawton RI, Hershberger PA, Goniewicz ML. Flavourings significantly affect inhalation toxicity of aerosol generated from electronic nicotine delivery systems (ends). Tobacco Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):ii81–ii7. pmid:27633767
  45. 45. Litt MD, Duffy V, Oncken C. Cigarette smoking and electronic cigarette vaping patterns as a function of e-cigarette flavourings. Tobacco Control. 2016;(0):1–6. pmid:27633766
  46. 46. Marynak KL, Gammon DG, Rogers T, Coats EM, Singh T, King BA. Sales of nicotine-containing electronic cigarette products: United states, 2015. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(5):702–5. PubMed PMID: WOS:000404385600035. pmid:28323467
  47. 47. Miech R, Patrick ME, O'malley PM, Johnston LD. What are kids vaping? Results from a national survey of us adolescents. Tobacco control. 2017;26(4):386–91. pmid:27562412
  48. 48. Morean ME, Kong G, Cavallo DA, Camenga DR, Krishnan-Sarin S. Nicotine concentration of e-cigarettes used by adolescents. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016;167:224–7. PubMed PMID: WOS:000385325100030. pmid:27592270
  49. 49. Nonnemaker J, Kim AE, Lee YO, Macmonegle A. Quantifying how smokers value attributes of electronic cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(e1):e37–e43. pmid:26546152.
  50. 50. Oncken CA, Litt MD, Mclaughlin LD, Burki NA. Nicotine concentrations with electronic cigarette use: Effects of sex and flavor. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(4):473–8. PubMed PMID: WOS:000353903000013. pmid:25762758
  51. 51. Patel D, Davis KC, Cox S, Bradfield B, King BA, Shafer P, et al. Reasons for current e-cigarette use among u.S. Adults. Preventive Medicine. 2016;93:14–20. PubMed PMID: 2016-58371-004. pmid:27612572
  52. 52. Pepper JK, Reiter PL, Mcree A-L, Cameron LD, Gilkey MB, Brewer NT. Adolescent males' awareness of and willingness to try electronic cigarettes. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2013;52(2):144–50. PubMed PMID: WOS:000313560100003. pmid:23332477
  53. 53. Pepper JK, Ribisl KM, Brewer NT. Adolescents' interest in trying flavoured e-cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(supp 2):ii62–ii6. PubMed PMID: WOS:000390589800009. pmid:27633762
  54. 54. Pineiro B, Correa JB, Simmons VN, Harrell PT, Menzie NS, Unrod M, et al. Gender differences in use and expectancies of e-cigarettes: Online survey results. Addictive Behaviors. 2016;52:91–7. PubMed PMID: WOS:000365377100014. pmid:26406973
  55. 55. Polosa R, Caponnetto P, Cibella F, Le-Houezec J. Quit and smoking reduction rates in vape shop consumers: A prospective 12-month survey. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(4):3428–38. Epub 2015/03/27. pmid:25811767; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC4410194.
  56. 56. Rosbrook K, Green BG. Sensory effects of menthol and nicotine in an e-cigarette. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2016;18(7):1588–95. PubMed PMID: 2016-40280-007. pmid:26783293
  57. 57. Seidenberg AB, Jo CL, Ribisl KM. Differences in the design and sale of e-cigarettes by cigarette manufacturers and non-cigarette manufacturers in the USA. Tobacco control. 2016;25(e1):e3–e5. pmid:26546151
  58. 58. Shang C, Huang J, Chaloupka FJ, Emery SL. The impact of flavour, device type and warning messages on youth preferences for electronic nicotine delivery systems: Evidence from an online discrete choice experiment. Tobacco Control. 2017. pmid:29097588.
  59. 59. Shiffman S, Sembower MA, Pillitteri JL, Gerlach KK, Gitchell JG. The impact of flavor descriptors on nonsmoking teens' and adult smokers' interest in electronic cigarettes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(10):1255–62. PubMed PMID: WOS:000363175500011. pmid:25566782
  60. 60. Simmons VN, Quinn GP, Harrell PT, Meltzer LR, Correa JB, Unrod M, et al. E-cigarette use in adults: A qualitative study of users' perceptions and future use intentions. Addiction Research & Theory. 2016;24(4):313–21. PubMed PMID: WOS:000376397100005. pmid:27725794
  61. 61. Smith DM, Bansal-Travers M, Huang J, Barker D, Hyland AJ, Chaloupka F. Association between use of flavoured tobacco products and quit behaviours: Findings from a cross-sectional survey of us adult tobacco users. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):73–80. PubMed PMID: 2016-61125-011. pmid:27708123
  62. 62. Soule EK, Rosas SR, Nasim A. Reasons for electronic cigarette use beyond cigarette smoking cessation: A concept mapping approach. Addictive Behaviors. 2016;56:41–50. PubMed PMID: 2016-06463-008. pmid:26803400
  63. 63. Soule EK, Lopez AA, Guy MC, Cobb CO. Reasons for using flavored liquids among electronic cigarette users: A concept mapping study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016;166:168–76. pmid:27460860
  64. 64. Soussy S, Ahmad E-H, Baalbaki R, Salman R, Shihadeh A, Saliba NA. Detection of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and furfural in the aerosol of electronic cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2016;25(suppl 2):ii88–ii93. pmid:27798321
  65. 65. St. Helen G, Dempsey DA, Havel CM, Jacob P, Benowitz NL. Impact of e-liquid flavors on nicotine intake and pharmacology of e-cigarettes. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2017;178:391–8. PubMed PMID: 2017-34715-056. pmid:28704768
  66. 66. Sussman S, Garcia R, Cruz TB, Baezconde-Garbanati L, Pentz MA, Unger JB. Consumers’ perceptions of vape shops in southern california: An analysis of online yelp reviews. Tobacco Induced Diseases. 2014;12(1):22. pmid:25484852
  67. 67. Tierney PA, Karpinski CD, Brown JE, Luo W, Pankow JF. Flavour chemicals in electronic cigarette fluids. Tobacco control. 2016;25(E1):e10–e5. pmid:25877377
  68. 68. Villanti AC, Richardson A, Vallone DM, Rath JM. Flavored tobacco product use among us young adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;44(4):388–91. pmid:23498105
  69. 69. Villanti AC, Johnson AL, Ambrose BK, Cummings KM, Stanton CA, Rose SW, et al. Flavored tobacco product use in youth and adults: Findings from the first wave of the path study (2013–2014). American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2017;53(2):139–51. PubMed PMID: WOS:000405998800007. pmid:28318902
  70. 70. Wagoner KG, Cornacchione J, Wiseman KD, Teal R, Moracco KE, Sutfin EL. E-cigarettes, hookah pens and vapes: Adolescent and young adult perceptions of electronic nicotine delivery systems. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2016;18(10):2006–12. PubMed PMID: WOS:000386201100012. pmid:27029821
  71. 71. Wang L, Zhan Y, Li Q, Zeng DD, Leischow SJ, Okamoto J. An examination of electronic cigarette content on social media: Analysis of e-cigarette flavor content on reddit. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(11):14916–35. PubMed PMID: WOS:000365645500084. pmid:26610541
  72. 72. Yingst JM, Veldheer S, Hrabovsky S, Nichols TT, Wilson SJ, Foulds J. Factors associated with electronic cigarette users’ device preferences and transition from first generation to advanced generation devices. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2015;17(10):1242–6. PubMed PMID: 2015-42983-009. pmid:25744966
  73. 73. Yingst JM, Veldheer S, Hammett E, Hrabovsky S, Foulds J. A method for classifying user-reported electronic cigarette liquid flavors. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2017;19(11):1381–5. PubMed PMID: WOS:000412164900018. pmid:28064201
  74. 74. Quickstats: Cigarette smoking status among current adult e-cigarette users, by age group—national health interview survey, united states, 2015. 2016 MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
  75. 75. Zhu S-H, Sun JY, Bonnevie E, Cummins SE, Gamst A, Yin L, et al. Four hundred and sixty brands of e-cigarettes and counting: Implications for product regulation. Tobacco control. 2014;23(suppl 3):iii3–iii9.