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Menthol Explained

menthol guide

Menthol cigarettes were incredibly popular but have now been banned. Menthol is also a feature of many e liquid flavours. You are probably familiar with the minty taste and cooling sensation provided by menthol. But do you know what menthol is and why it feels chilly? 

What is menthol?

Menthol is an organic compound which can be obtained naturally from the oils of mints or manufactured synthetically. Pure menthol is a solid but begins to melt at room temperature. It is primarily used for medicinal purposes as it boasts anaesthetic properties and can reduce irritation. 

Menthol is also a k-opioid receptor agonist. We don’t want to blind you with complex science, but this basically means that menthol is a mild analgesic (pain killer) and might affect your mood. It is a feature of many medications and is utilised as a topical antibacterial agent. However, in large doses, it can induce unpleasant side effects including nausea. 

Why does menthol feel chilly?

You will probably know that menthol induces a cooling sensation, whether it is inhaled, eaten or applied to your skin. This is because menthol triggers cold-sensitive TRPM8 receptors in the skin. The chemical reaction that occurs when menthol contacts skin is similar to that produced by capsaicin which is responsible for the spicy taste of chillies. Both menthol and chillies stimulate heat sensors in the body but without causing any change in temperature. 

Why were menthol cigarettes banned?

From 20 May 2020, the sale of menthol cigarettes was banned in the UK and throughout the European Union. The ban was implemented because research had suggested that menthol cigarettes are attractive to youngsters. The anaesthetic properties of menthol relax the airway, making smoking feel less harsh. In addition, many smokers believed that menthol cigarettes were healthier than regular cigarettes and that they were not so addictive.

At first glance, the new regulations may seem to be a little heavy handed. But the truth is that menthol cigarettes are actually more addictive than other ciggies. Those refreshing minty notes can promote the idea that it is OK to smoke menthol cigs, and this could encourage people to smoke more than they otherwise would. The taste alone could be addictive. More importantly, menthol is known to increase nicotine receptor density and so makes the nicotine in cigarettes more addictive. Research has shown that smokers of menthol cigarettes find it even harder than most to quit the habit.

What is the impact on vaping?

The ban on menthol cigarettes does not extend to e liquids. You can still vape menthol flavours and the ban could inspire more smokers to try vaping. For smokers who enjoy the taste of menthol, Vaping is the obvious alternative, not least because there are so many menthol flavours to choose from.

What do you need to know about menthol e liquids?

E liquids containing menthol taste refreshing but some vapours find them to be harsh on their throats. This harshness is in part due to the way that menthol reacts with the nicotine in e liquids. The issue can largely be overcome by switching to flavours featuring salt nicotine. Nic salts deliver much smoother hits and largely prevent any irritation caused by menthol. For most vapers, menthol feels quite soothing. If you have yet to try menthol flavours, it would be worth testing the water as you might find that you really enjoy them.

It’s important to remember that menthol isn’t a flavour as such. Mint is a flavour but menthol, which is derived from mint, offers only subtle minty notes and is all about the cooling sensation. Menthol can be added to a variety of flavours to imbue them with a cooling sensation and an extra dimension. Menthol tends to work best with tobacco, fruit and confectionery flavours but crops up in a surprising number of e liquids. Sometimes you will experience only subtle hints of chill, while other flavours are positively icy.

If you see a flavour described as chilly, icy or sub-zero, it will probably contain menthol. But it could be koolada that is chilling your juice.

What is koolada?

Koolada (menthyl methyl lactate) also adds a cooling sensation to vape juices. It triggers the same cold receptors as menthol. However, koolada does not have the minty taste of menthol. Some vapers say that they can detect a slight mintiness with koolada. For this reason, its best not to add too much if you are mixing your own juice and don’t want to alter the flavour.