Smokers assume false sense of safety from ads for low nicotine cigarettes
Mar 27, 2006 - 4:11:37 AM

A study by researchers at the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that many smokers make false inferences about the safety of new low nicotine cigarettes.

"This study is the first to evaluate how regular smokers responded to a print ad for Quest cigarettes, a newly developed cigarette marketed as a way to gradually reduce nicotine exposure via smoking cigarettes that are lower in nicotine," said author Caryn Lerman, PhD, Associate Director for Cancer Control and Population Science at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor in Penn's School of Medicine and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Quest® cigarettes are a brand of low-nicotine cigarettes manufactured by Vector Tobacco, Inc., and currently marketed in eight US states. Quest® cigarettes, both regular and menthol, are manufactured with three progressively lower nicotine levels and marketed as allowing smokers to "step-down" nicotine levels to enjoy "nicotine-free smoking." Anti-smoking advocates highlight the long-term health effects – like cancer and emphysema – that result from a lifetime of smoking or chewing tobacco. These maladies, however, are the result of chemicals in cigarettes other than nicotine. While Quest® cigarettes do offer reduced nicotine levels, they do not have progressively less tar and thus, still pose significant health risks. Given evidence that many smokers misinterpret the information contained in marketing campaigns for such "light" cigarettes it is important to understand how smokers perceive this newly marketed low nicotine cigarette.

Lerman led a research team that examined the response of 200 regular smokers to a Quest ® cigarette print advertisement using a mall intercept survey approach. Participants viewed a single Quest® cigarette print advertisement and then were asked to answer a series of questions about their smoking and quitting history, beliefs about Quest® cigarettes, perceived vulnerability to the health effects of smoking, and the "need for cognition" – or how much people like to think critically about information. Researchers found that as many as 45% of smokers made false inferences about the tar content of Quest® cigarettes. Also, smokers who felt less vulnerable to the health effects of smoking and who do not enjoy thinking critically about issues made more false inferences about the potential harms of Quest® cigarettes.

"These results reinforce the need for public health awareness campaigns to relay the message that smoking any cigarettes – regardless of nicotine content – can have deleterious health effects," said co-author Andrew Strasser, PhD. This research was funded by the

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