'Effective health messaging should communicate risks without discouraging smokers'
Research undertaken by the Centre for Addictive Behaviours at London South Bank University (LSBU) has shown that using “reduced risk” messaging was more successful in encouraging tobacco smokers to switch to vapes, without enticing non-smokers to start.
Authors of the report, which is published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, urged the government to reconsider the wording on such products after research participants confirmed that a reduced risk message was more effective in encouraging tobacco smokers to use e-cigarettes.
In the study 2,495 UK residents were asked how harmful, addictive and effective they thought e-cigarettes were and if they intended to use them.
Participants were asked to rate the e-cigarettes before and after viewing different health warnings online between December 2018 and January 2019.
EU messaging stating, “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. It is not recommended for non-smokers”, led the sample group to perceive e-cigarettes as more harmful and addictive.
Conversely, an alternative reduced risk message stating, “use of this product is much less harmful than smoking” was found to minimise perception of harm in smokers only.
This message increased smokers intention to purchase and use e-cigarettes, but not non-smokers.
The authors wrote: “Because current (EU) messages focus on the absolute risks of nicotine use, they may actually deter use in smokers and undermine the potential of e-cigarettes to assist a change in smoking behaviour.
”Whilst reducing appeal amongst non-smokers is clearly desirable, effective health messaging should communicate risks without discouraging smokers.“
Lynne Dawkins, professor of nicotine and tobacco studies at LSBU, who led the research, added: ”Ultimately, if more smokers switch to e-cigarettes, there will be fewer smoking-related deaths and diseases.“
Kruti Shrotri, tobacco control manager at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: ”E-cigarettes are a relatively new product - we strongly discourage non-smokers from using them as they aren't risk-free and we don't yet know their long-term impact.
“But research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco, and can help people to stop smoking.
”This study helps to build the evidence around what can be done to help smokers quit tobacco by switching to e-cigarettes, while ensuring non-smokers don't start using them.“
Scientists remain divided on the risks associated with vaping but both the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) support the use of vaping over smoking.
In 2015, a report from PHE estimated vaping was 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.
Experts estimate 20,000 smokers who take up e-cigarettes are quitting smoking each year in the UK alone.
Figures released by the NHS in July revealed that in 2017, 77,800 deaths were attributable to smoking.
In 2018, 14.4 per cent of adults in the UK were classified as current smokers.