Comparative risk messaging techniques may be helpful in encouraging smokers otherwise not willing to quit to switch to less harmful electronic cigarettes, according to a study by a group of tobacco researchers at the Georgia State University School of Public Health .
The authors concluded that regulatory agencies trying to address the health dangers of smoking should consider comparative risk messaging with additional antismoking messaging as a tool to educate the public about the lower risk of e-cigarettes.
Such messaging may be important because other research has found that the public’s belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes is declining, even as many experts agree that e-cigarettes are lower risk than combustible cigarettes.
Results of the study are presented in an article titled “Testing messages about comparative risk of electronic cigarettes and combusted cigarettes,” published in the journal Tobacco Control. Dr. Bo Yang, a postdoctoral research associate at the School of Public Health at Georgia State, was the lead author. The co-authors were Dr. Daniel Owusu, postdoctoral research associate, and Dr. Lucy Popova, assistant professor of health promotion & behavior, also at the School of Public Health.
The study analyzed the responses of 1,400 adults who participated in an online experiment and were randomly presented with one of three messages that compared the risk of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, three messages that offered the comparison while adding “negative” anti-smoking design elements, such as graphic portrayals of diseases caused by smoking, and a control image with no smoking-related messaging. Participants included current smokers and people who had quit within the previous two years.
[Photo: Dr. Bo Yang]
Neither message type was found to increase participants’ intentions to become “dual users” of cigarettes and e-cigarettes or to lower smokers’ interest in quitting.
“Regardless of message type, we found some positive effects and no evidence of unintended effect of messages communicating lower risk of e-cigarettes than cigarettes,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, comparative risk messages incorporating more negative antismoking elements in the design increased smokers’ self-efficacy to quit smoking — a critical factor contributing to the success of smoking cessation.”
The researchers recommend additional research to test how such comparative risk messages are perceived by non-smokers, adolescent smokers and long-term former smokers.
Research reported in this publication was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Food and Drug Administration.