Impact of modified risk tobacco product claims on beliefs – US study

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Under US law, tobacco product marketing may claim lower exposure to chemicals, or lower risk of health harms, only if these claims do not mislead the public. A study found that lower exposure claims misled people to perceive lower risk – even though no lower risk claim was explicitly made.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, was conducted by researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, The National Institutes of Health, and the University of North Carolina: Sherine El-Toukhy, Sabeeh A Baig, Michelle Jeong2, M Justin Byron, Kurt M Ribisland Noel T Brewer.

Impact of modified risk tobacco product claims on beliefs of US adults and adolescents

Objective

Under US law, tobacco product marketing may claim lower exposure to chemicals, or lower risk of health harms, only if these claims do not mislead the public. We sought to examine the impact of such marketing claims about potential modified risk tobacco products (MRTPs).

Methods

Participants were national samples of 4,797 adults and 969 adolescent US smokers and non-smokers. We provided information about a potential MRTP (heated tobacco product, electronic cigarette or snus). Experiment 1 stated that the MRTP was as harmful as cigarettes or less harmful (lower risk claim). Experiment 2 stated that the MRTP exposed users to a similar quantity of harmful chemicals as cigarettes or to fewer chemicals (lower exposure claim).

Results

Claiming lower risk led to lower perceived quantity of chemicals and lower perceived risk among adults and adolescents (all p<0.05, Experiment 1). Among adults, this claim led to higher susceptibility to using the MRTP (p<0.05). Claiming lower exposure led to lower perceived chemical quantity and lower perceived risk (all p<0.05), but had no effect on use susceptibility (Experiment 2). Participants thought that snus exposed users to more chemicals and was less safe to use than heated tobacco products or electronic cigarette MRTPs (Experiments 1 and 2).

Discussion

Risk and exposure claims acted similarly on MRTP beliefs. Lower exposure claims misled the public to perceive lower perceived risk even though no lower risk claim was explicitly made, which is impermissible under US law.

Impact of modified risk tobacco product claims on beliefs of US adults and adolescents

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