Penn study shows smokers assume false sense of safety from ads for low nicotine Quest® cigarettes

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 Quest® cigarettes. This research appears in the March issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

"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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National Cancer Institute and was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center and the Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research.

About the Abramson Cancer Center:
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1973 as a center of excellence in cancer research, patient care, education and outreach. Today, the Abramson Cancer Center ranks as one of the nation's best in cancer care, according to US News and World Report, and is one of the top five in National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding. It is one of only 39 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Home to one of the largest clinical and research programs in the world, the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania has 275 active cancer researchers and 250 Penn physicians involved in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. More information about the Abramson Cancer Center is available at: www.pennhealth.com/cancer


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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