A new report finds that one of the primary causes of poor public perception is poorly designed risk messages
It’s closing in on a decade since vaporizers have been widely available around the world. In that time the vaping industry has run into some controversies, mostly regarding the various ways countries have decided to treat and regulate the products. It’s astonishing how many different reactions there have been. While some countries have researched and embraced vaping both for harm reduction and smoking cessation purposes; others places have banned the products, or made them nearly impossible to get a hold of within the bounds of the law. Many countries are working to find a middle ground that is fair to those who use the products for smoking cessation while discouraging non-smokers to take up the nicotine-containing product.
The European Union, for their part, has set a regulation which requires a label, no smaller than 30% of the packaging. The label declares that the product contains nicotine, and informs buyers it’s a highly addictive substance. The introduction of these labels brought on a lot of discussion about whether having them is discouraging smokers from switching to vaping. With that question in mind, a study was conducted and recently published in the Addictive Behaviors Reports Journal.
The study, led by Dr. Sharon Cox of the Centre for Addictive Behaviors Research at London South Bank University, took a look at the effect of the label currently used by the EU, versus one that discusses the relative risk of a vaporizer compared with cigarettes. The study, titled Messages Matter: The Tobacco Products Directive Nicotine Addiction Health Warning Versus An Alternative Relative Risk Message On Smokers’ Willingness To Use And Purchase An Electronic Cigarette, was conducted by surveying 100 smokers between the ages of 18 and 55. They asked the participants about their willingness to use vaping product given different packaging. First without any label, then with two other types of labels. The alternative label warns about nicotine but makes it clear that e-cigarette only pose around 5% of the health risk that combustible cigarettes do.
After gathering their data, researchers analyzed the information and uncovered some interesting patterns. The team found a substantial difference between the labels. The current EU standard label was found to be very discouraging and made participants far less likely to use the product. Alternatively, the comparative risk label made it more likely for them to pick up the product, researchers did note however that further research would have to be done to find the precise wording of such a label to maximize its effectiveness. They also suggested that research should be done to find a hybrid option which brings the labels closer to the ultimate goal of encouraging smokers to quit while discouraging non-smokers from taking up vaping.
Another aspect the study discussed is that the use of these labels is unfairly aligning vaping with smoking. “These (labels),” says Cox “are typically borrowed or amended messages from cigarette or smokeless tobacco products.” These labels are effective at discouraging non-smokers from using vaporizers, but they are equally discouraging to smokers. By labeling the products this way, an association is being made between vaping and the dangers of cigarettes.The alternative label, promoted by this study, clearly states significant differences between the two products.
There is a plethora of studies that prove these differences as well. Public Health England published a study in 2015 that’s been tested and supported multiple times. They concluded that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking combustible cigarettes. Another study, published more recently, found that the excess lifetime cancer risk, or risk of developing cancer beyond your genetic disposition, is 57,000 times lower for a vaper than for a smoker with a comparable background. Not only has vaping been proven to be safer, but also more effective than any other smoking cessation tool on the market. A study out of the University of Louisville tested vaping as a smoking cessation tool against other popular products like nicotine patches, gums, and prescription drugs like Chantix. Ultimately they found vaping was the most successful of the way to help smokers quit, and stay off cigarettes long term.
While all of these studies continue to find vaping to be an excellent tool for smokers looking to quit, public perception is still against it around the world. A lot of misinformation has been spread, either through the media or in some cases through government regulation. Researchers in the Messages Matter study even made a note of it in their paper: “Reasons for these misperceptions may include a general misunderstanding of the harms of nicotine use, as well as the wider impact of negative media reporting. It is possible that health warnings on e-cigarettes may exacerbate these misperceptions by negatively impacting smokers’ beliefs and acting as a deterrent to use in a quit attempt” These misperceptions are having a significant impact on people who could genuinely benefit from switching to e-cigarettes. It is crucial for the worldwide fight against tobacco that this misinformation is corrected, and misperceptions righted.
These warning labels could have a significant role to play in that fight. More studies need to be conducted on the optimal packing that will strike the chord between discouraging non-smokers from vaping while encouraging smokers to use it to quit. A better understanding of how to promote the benefits of vaping to those who need it, while warning others could be essential in changing the tide on vaping’s public perception. If vaping is ever to reach its full potential in moving society forward this line must be found.
Do you think it’s important to have different risk messages for vaping products? Are you worried about the public perception of vaping moving forward? Do you think it’s important to change the risk labels? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.